The Sunday Gospel
Fr Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.
On the last Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is a relatively modern feast, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In the aftermath of World War I, peace was barely surviving on uneasy foundations. Atheistic communism was expanding rapidly. Pius XI appealed to the world to look at the ideals of Jesus Christ for the true foundation of peace. He is the Prince of Peace and King of the Universe.
In the gospel we read that when people set out to take Jesus and make him king, he fled back to the hills alone. Their idea of kingship was radically different from his idea. People wanted a king to liberate them from Roman rule. Later, when Jesus was being tried by Pilate, he was asked if he was a king. He agreed that he was but assured Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world.
From the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus set out to establish the kingdom of God on earth. He wanted to lead people away from the wrong ways of living to a new way. The preface of Mass today describes his kingdom as one of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. If these ideals were to be taken seriously, what a wonderful world we would enjoy. Truth and life: holiness and grace: justice, love and peace.
The charter of his Kingdom, what we might today call his mission statement, is set out in the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes rejected the sort of kingdom founded on prosperity, power, domination, injustice and persecution of any opposition. From the moment of his coming into this world he was born, not in a grand palace, but in a cave shared with farm animals. His crown was made of spikey thorns and his throne was a cross for the execution of criminals.
A Shepherd King
So, if he wasn’t the typical sort of king, what was he like? The readings at Mass today compare him to a shepherd who leads his flock, cares for them, feeds them, protects them and searches for the lost one. Ezekiel, in the first reading, tells us “I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray and make the weak strong.” Then he says: “As for you, my sheep, I will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and he-goats”. Ezekiel there sets the scene for the final judgement as described in today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46), the final sermon of Jesus.
When we were young pupils facing the house-exams we would hope that our teachers might drop hints about the examination questions. Jesus did not merely give hints but he told us clearly what would come up in the final examination. It would be all about how we treat other people. St John asks us how can we love God whom we have never seen if we do not love the people that we can see (I John 4:20)? In one of the Peanuts cartoons, Charlie Brown says, “I love humanity: it’s people I can’t stick.”
Love is a word much used but little understood. It is more than a feeling, an infatuation or simply liking another person. Maybe it would be better if we used the gospel word, compassionate. “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36). Compassion means entering into the suffering of another person. Compassion will try to let everyone have food and drink, clothing and housing. It welcomes strangers and migrants. Outcasts and prisoners are not despised but are treated with dignity and respect as children of God.
Pope Francis, whose care for the poor is straight out the gospel, suggests that if you give some money to a beggar, don’t just drop it into a hat or bowl but hand it to the person if possible, make eye contact and say something. These marks of respect might mean more than the money.
You did it to me
In the gospel parable take note of the surprise of people on either side of the separation. When did we see you hungry and feed you…or did not come to your help? Then we hear the great answer of Jesus: “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Compassion means seeing people not only with our eyes but with our heart. St Teresa of Calcutta would encourage people to exercise her five-finger programme…counting out the five words “You did it to me”. When faith is enlightened by compassion it sees Christ in other people.