23 November 2008 Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
Ezekiel 34, 11-17; Psalm 23, 1-6; 1 Cor 15, 20-28; Matthew 25, 31-36
The Solemnity of Christ the King is celebrated at the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. In the past, it was celebrated with pomp and pageantry. But today, many churches celebrate this solemnity with simplicity and subtlety that the importance of this feast is superseded by the excitement of the Christmas Season. Culture contributes to downplay the feast: in the Philippines, we are not a monarchial society and thus the image of a king does not resonate to many Filipinos. A “king” here denotes someone who is authoritative, autocratic, and power-hungry, almost a tyrannical ruler. A king here may have an attitude problem. Some priests, for example, are called “kings” — “ang pari ay hari” (the priest is king) — but the meaning is negative. Thus, the “king” here does not command respect and reverence as kings in Thailand and other monarchial states. It is more a dictatorship than a leadership.
What is the meaning of a king in the true Christian spirit? We can glean its meaning through the readings today. Except for the second reading, the image of a king is a shepherd. The image of a shepherd in ancient times became a popular image of kingship because evoked personal and pastoral care. The shepherd knew every single sheep in a herd, which our common eyes could not distinguish. He tended each sheep, protected them from harm, and looked out for them when they venture outside of the herd. The same thing with kings: a good king was someone who devoted his time to his individual constituents and at the same time, involved himself in general welfare.
The Gospel today reminds us that we are to be like shepherds in our exercise of leadership. The model is Jesus. By emulating the examples of Jesus, we acknowledge Jesus as King in our lives. It also means that we are willing to have Him as the prime example of our lifestyle. He is the model of service. The good deeds are feeding the hungry, offering hospitality to the homeless, clothing the naked, comforting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. It is a called a relationship of identity. We identify ourselves with Jesus.
Of course, there are other ways to be good depending on who we are dealing with. Parenting is shepherding your family. Private or government practice involves personal care as well as concern for the general welfare of the people in the company and in the country. Organizational leadership carries the same type of leadership.
Finally, the Solemnity of Christ the King includes an eschatological meaning. Eschatology is a part of theology that is concerned with the end, whether death, judgment of the final destiny of the soul and all of humankind. Eskhatos in Greek means ‘last’. It is that last part of our Creed: we believe in “life everlasting”. The feast reminds us that the good that we do today will be acknowledged in the final judgment. It is the good that we do that would merit everlasting life.
Meaning is discovered in the perspective of forever. It is difficult to be good. Often it entails some form of pain and suffering. To be good requires a self-giving, a certain dying to our needs and desires. When we take good care of people we love, we suffer a lot. But the end of days, the eschatological aspect of our faith, tells us that God will not forget our sacrifices. Those who have performed good deeds ‘to the least of my brothers and sisters’ will merit eternal life. We remember Jesus as the second reading reminds us. Death comes before the Resurrection. The good thing is that the last say in our lives is not our suffering, but our triumph.