The Kingdom of God
[Ezek.34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26, 28; Mt.25:31-46]
There have been some good leaders in history.
King Louis IX of France was one. He cared for the poor, acted justly and was declared a saint. King Christian X of Denmark was another. During World War II, he saved 7,500 Jews from a cruel death by smuggling them to Sweden.
But there have been some awful tyrants, too, like Hitler and Stalin who manipulated and murdered countless people. It’s because of these dreadful leaders that Pope Pius XI in 1925 established today’s Feast of Christ the King.
Pope Pius worried that too many people followed the Nazis, communists and fascists, and wanted to remind us of our need for a leader who won’t exploit the weak or poor. He also wanted us to remember that God created the world and that Christ came to show us ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn.14:6).
The irony here is that Jesus didn’t want to be celebrated as a king. In John’s Gospel, when the crowds try to force him to become their king, Jesus escapes to the mountains (Jn.6:15). And when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, he vaguely replies, ‘It is you who say it’ (Jn.18:37).
Why did Jesus hide his kingship? It’s because he knew no-one would understand what it meant. Everyone in those days expected kings to have power, riches and authority, but Jesus came to reveal a very different kind of leadership.
By coming to us as a vulnerable child and by living an obscure life in a small town, Jesus teaches us that true kingship is reflected in things like compassion and humble service.
In his book ‘Once Upon a Gospel,’ William Bausch says that the feast of Christ the King has nothing to do with crowns, palaces or robes. Rather, it’s all about us getting our priorities straight.
It’s about the way we live and who we choose to follow in our everyday lives. [i]
It’s important to get this right, because in today’s Gospel Jesus says that one day, we will all have to account for ourselves, and that will be when he starts separating ‘the sheep from the goats.’
The sheep are those who will inherit God’s kingdom. They are the ones who live as Jesus did: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty; welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting prisoners.
The goats, however, will be those who are left behind. They’re the ones who would rather be rich or famous than help the poor. They prefer fun and glamour over caring for the weak, and they’d rather keep up with the Joneses than care for those who suffer.
This is how we’ll all be judged when our time comes: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my people, you do for me,’ Jesus says.
When Pope Pius XI launched today’s feast day, he said that as our king, Jesus must reign in our minds, so that we firmly believe the truths about him.
He must reign in our wills, so that we obey God’s laws.
He must reign in our hearts, so that we truly love God above everything else.
And he must reign in our bodies, so that we may serve as instruments of justice in the world. [ii]
Let’s close with a story. In 1990, the American pastor Robert Sproul went to communist Eastern Europe to give some talks. He and his group were warned that the Romanian border guards were hostile to Americans and they should be prepared to be hassled and perhaps even arrested.
When they reached the Romanian border, two guards boarded their train. They couldn’t speak English, but brusquely pointed for their passports and luggage, which they wanted to check.
Then, suddenly, their boss appeared. He was a burly officer who spoke broken English. He noticed that one of the women had a paper bag. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘What’s in bag?’ He opened it up and pulled out a Bible. Sproul thought, ‘Uh-oh, now we’re in trouble.’
The officer began leafing through the Bible, and stopped and looked at Sproul, who was holding his American passport. ‘You no American,’ he said. He said the same thing to the others in their group. But then he smiled and said, ‘I am not Romanian.’
By now they were all quite confused, but he pointed at the Bible and said, ‘Read what it says.’ Sproul looked at it and it said, ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’ (Phil.3:20a).
The guard was a Christian. He turned to his subordinates and said: ‘Let these people alone. They’re OK. They’re Christians.’ [iii]
The world is quite a different place when we’re all citizens of God’s kingdom.
[i] Bausch, W.J. Once Upon a Gospel. Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:315.
[ii] Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, 1925 http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas.html