It is easy to preach about the Feast of Christ the King. However, to implement the lesson that Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) is quite a different story.
Perhaps the first thing that we should allow to sink in our mind and heart is the fact that there is a separation, a splitting up of people in two groups that seems to go on all the time. It is similar to what a shepherd does with his flock separating sheep from goats: sheep on his right, goats on his left. The separation has to do with God’s project: he is our Creator and, in his majesty and sovereignty, he has decreed to build himself a Kingdom that is quite unique in nature.
It is a Kingdom planned since before the foundation of the world, from all eternity, if you will, yet a Kingdom plunged also into time and entrusted into the hands of his Son Jesus.
It is a Kingdom that Jesus, after having conquered all selfishness, evil and death itself, will hand over to the Father, so that God will be all in all. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28)
It is a Kingdom of pure, genuine love; a Kingdom whose building up is done also with each one of us contributing with a sincere, personal, direct commitment.
For as long as we live on this earth we have the luxury, in our freedom, to switch sides: to be a sheep, then a goat, then a sheep again. We can be a Kingdom-builder, then a disengaged bystander and, then, a Kingdom-builder once again. Or we can be a part time Kingdom-builder beset with bouts of aloofness, indifference and emotional detachment.
As the Gospel passage warns us: with this switching from one side to the other, or with a mere halfhearted involvement, we play Russian roulette with our eternal life because we do not know when the final separation will take place. Thus, there is an inference: every moment of our allotted time on this earth should be spent building Christ’s Kingdom with selfless loving, joyous service and humble caring.
For many of us, this simple realization implies a radical conversion, a courageous shifting of focus: from self-absorption to developing a sharp eye able to recognize Christ in all his unexpected, unusual, improbable “disguises.”
Thus, we come to another consideration: Let us think thoroughly, intently: how sharp is our eye? How quickly do we recognize Christ under the guise of those six categories of people, the least of his brothers/sisters listed in today’s Gospel passage? (cf. Matthew 25:35-36) Or, putting it in a different way: do we instead recognize in them, so quickly, practically as a second nature, potential intruders, people about to importune us, impose on us, use, hurt, cheat us, take up a lot of our precious, busy, tightly-scheduled time?
Perhaps, at this time, we come to grips with the enormity of the risk we have taken thus far in our life, by our being part-time sheep, part-time goats, in our self-imposed blindness, disengagement and aloofness. How many missed opportunities to build Christ’s Kingdom! How many missed opportunities to attend to his pressing needs!
Perhaps by now, we have come to appreciate a bit more Jesus’ remark that urges his sheep to try to enter through the narrow gate since the gate chosen by the goats is so wide open, easily accessible, a natural choice, instinctively chosen simply by thinking of ourselves first and foremost or, even worse, exclusively. (cf. Matthew 7:13-14) Personally, I ought to confess my twofold embarrassment: it is so easy for me to preach about the crucial need to recognize Christ in his “disguises” and to attend to his needs. It is so much harder for me to practice it. And, secondly, being a priest immersed in things sacred by vocation, for the longest time, I have lived with the erroneous notion that Christ seated on his royal throne would judge us priests on things sacred such as our prayer life, the correctness of our liturgies, the extent of our knowledge of theology, things of that sort.
My friends in Christ, we are all (priests included) called to build a Kingdom of love and humble service to our brothers and sisters. The final test, the ultimate judgement, will be pronounced uniformly, for everyone, on factual love for our neighbor, for the least of our brothers and sisters. Hence, it might be sufficient for us to be driven by the exterior motivation of holy fear: once the separation has taken place there is no more switching sides. But today, once again, we have the opportunity to contemplate two more disguises favored by our Lord: the Crucifix and the Eucharist.
Very few people recognized our God as his head was crowned with thorns, his face caked with spittle, dried blood and sweat, his limbs plowed into bloody furrows by cruel scourging. More people tend to recognize him under the humble species of bread and wine. Yet, these disguises, too, speak of humble service unto death for us. Yet, these disguises, too, call us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to attend to the needs of our needy, hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, ill, and imprisoned God.
May we all find in the Crucifix and in Holy Communion the inner motivation of genuine love to start now our direct engagement in attending to the needs of our God and King and, thus, to work in earnest and joyfully to build his Kingdom.