Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jesus Christ the King

1. Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world... (Matthew 25:34). Generally when most people consider the end of the world, they tend to focus on the images contained in the book of Revelation. They observe the disasters befalling people, whether they are natural or the result of violent sin and then try to interpret them in light of the apocalyptic language of the last book of the Bible. There are others, when they read these visions, become somewhat frightened and do not wish to think about them. Still others are worried about concepts which are not found in the Bible and are not part of traditional Christianity, for example the so-called rapture and possibility of being left behind when such an event is supposed to occur.
2. Focusing on the book of Revelations, however, for clues to the end of the world is not always useful. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic and difficult to interpret. Besides, many of the events depicted are not in the future but have already happened. On the other hand, today’s Gospel is pretty clear about what is going to happen at the end- there will be judgement. As we say in the Profession of Faith, we believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
3. The purpose of judgement is to set things right, to be fair. Although judgement can be a fearful thing, Jesus insisted that He did not come to condemn the world but to save it (see John 12:47). Note that when the Son of Man returns to judge, He says to those He deems good come blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. That is, it has always been God’s intention that we would inherit His kingdom as His beloved sons and daughters. That is the plan of God. Jesus does not say to those condemned that their place of punishment was prepared for them since the foundation of the world. That is because God did not intend to punish anyone when He created them. In truth, we are in a sense predestined for the kingdom but we are not predestined for hell. God did not make anyone to punish, but He made all of us out of the goodness of His love to share His presence forever.
4. Still, it is a judgement, and since God gave us the gift of free will, He is not going to force us to spend and eternity in the house of the Father if we really do not want to be there. As Jesus indicates the possibility for eternal life as the result of our actions, He also indicates the possibility of eternal damnation based on our actions.
5. Of course, someone may question what does judgement have to do with the Kingship of Christ? There may even be discomfort in hearing about the fires of Hell. I must admit, this reading always makes me a little nervous. But it is indeed all about the kingship of Jesus.
6. When God called Abraham and his children to faith, it was to be that God would be their king. They would not bow down to earthly power or strive to impose their own wills upon one another. Rather God was to be King. Although they failed time and time again to put the Lord first, nevertheless through the prophets there was a longing for God to be King. Isaiah expresses that longing, hoping that God Himself would come down and lead them into justice and peace. It came to pass that God Himself did come down and took upon Himself our human nature. Jesus the Christ is indeed our king. But He is not the kind of king that many people had been used to. Although He is the Lord, Jesus did not “lord” it over His disciples. It is true, that Jesus sought to conform us to the will of the Father. He wanted to spread the kingdom to everywhere (see Matthew 28:19-20). He greatly desired to destroy the enemies of sin and death. But He did so by humbling Himself and offering Himself on the cross. In His passion and death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death and in His own body conformed our nature to the will of the Father.
7. To enter into the eternal life, willed by the Father and won by Jesus Christ, it is necessary to recognize Christ as our King and to serve Him. In spite of the many beautiful things the earth has to offer, we were not made for the earth, we were made for heaven.
8. For that reason, the judgement depicted in the parable is all about our relationship with Jesus, which is expressed by our relationship with one another. Eternal happiness is the consequence of serving Christ our King in every action. Eternal damnation is the consequence of failing to serve Christ our King in every action. There really is not any middle way. Jesus takes our behavior toward each other personally. And it is completely practical. If we contribute to feeding the hungry (such as in our food pantry or in another way), we are feeding Jesus. If we neglect hungry, then we neglect Jesus (and He does not like it). If we protect the vulnerable from attack, we protect Jesus. That is why the Church does not condemn membership in the military, for many have sacrificed to protect others. On the other hand, if we attack the vulnerable, or even if we simply neglect them, we do the same to Jesus. (If we neglect the elderly or the sick, or the unborn child for our own political or economic benefit, then we do so at the peril of our souls). But whatever we do for them we can be assured by the words of Jesus that He accepts our kindness as personal.
9. This reading might fill us with fear and trepidation. But although fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, fear is not going to be sufficient to motivate us to do right. There is a story of Mother Theresa who was comforting a dying man on the streets of Calcutta India. The man was very sick, very thin, covered with sores and dirt. And he had the smell of death. Some businessmen passed by and one of them remarked, "I would not do that for a million dollars." Mother Theresa looked up at him and said "Neither would I." Why did she do it? Was it fear? No. It was love of Jesus. If we love Jesus, if He is truly our King, then we can truly serve Him with all our hearts. Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...

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