The Feast of Christ the King
Readings: Ezekiel 34. 11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25. 31-46 (view all)
At one stage a few years ago, my daughter Evie had a favourite phrase whenever something didn’t go her way — ‘It’s not fair!’ Whether it was being denied a treat or being told she couldn’t do something that she really wanted, in her mind straight away, her fairness alarm was triggered.
As human beings we often bring a strong sense of fairness to ourselves and our own interests. We live in a highly individualised culture, where often any infringement of individual choice is often perceived as unfair or unjust.
However, perhaps something we are not so good at, even in our highly developed culture, is extending our concern for justice to those who are marginalised in our society. Or at least, know how to use our lives to act on those concerns.
So as followers of Jesus, how should we care for those who are most vulnerable? And how can we seek the face of Jesus today, in the faces of those who are poor and marginalised?
Today’s gospel reading is a well-known parable of Jesus, which draws on the prophesy of Ezekiel, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In it, Jesus presents us with an image of the last judgement, with himself as King sitting as the judge, separating the good — the sheep — on the one hand, from the bad — the goats — on the other.
But when the final judgement is made, both groups are surprised and confused. There is no mention of individual achievements or legacies — the things that we might expect in today’s culture to be important. In fact the judgement is remarkably personal.
‘For I was hungry,’ the good sheep are told, ‘and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
You see, what is so surprising, is that Jesus — the King — related himself personally with those who are last and least. An act of service to them, is an act of service to him. And this is the basis on which the judgement is made.
In this picture, Jesus reveals to us that God is not just a God for the poor. God does not practice compassion from a safe distance like a King looking on from a golden palace.
Instead, this is the God of the poor. The God who suffers with the vulnerable and the marginalised.
This God, we discover each Christmas, is born as human being not in a palace, but in a stable amongst the poor.
And this God calls us, Christ’s body, to live out the same radical solidarity with those who are last and least in our society today. Charity from a distance, while admirable, is not enough in itself.
Instead we are called to close the distance, to get our hands dirty even if it means getting wounded ourselves in the process. Just like Jesus, we are called to empty ourselves through loving, sacrificial service of others.
I am increasingly convinced that, if there is a future for the Church in our Western society, it won’t be because of the style or quality of our worship, or even the standard of our sermons. It will be because of our loving service to those in need, our solidarity with those whose voices are marginalised, our unrelenting pursuit of justice for the poor.
For some this approach will prove unpopular. Many, including if I’m honest myself, will struggle to relinquish our own power, privilege and comfort.
But we must learn again to see the face of Jesus in those who are least like us. To hear God’s voice in the experiences of those who are vulnerable and marginalised. To be Christ’s broken body, in a world which is broken and hurting.
Because it is in choosing the way of solidarity, sacrifice and service — it is in choosing to wrap up our own salvation with the salvation of those in desperate need around us — that we find salvation for ourselves.
Someone who has perhaps grasped this truth more than many in the Church today, is Pope Francis. In his words, but also through his actions, he has provided an example of a new way for those of us in positions of power, to live simply and generously.
In one of his very first sermons, having been elected Pope, he summed up his entire perspective when he said this:
‘I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.’
In our time in the life of the Church, our choice is clear. No one would blame us for clinging to our own security, or safeguarding our own interests.
But so much more is possible, if we are willing to get our hands dirty, finding the face of Christ our King in the faces of the poor, the hurting and the vulnerable.