This final Sunday of the liturgical year: Christ the King. 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time. It is crowded with meaning and significance. The feast is an allusion to monarchy while living through 2020’s challenges of democracy; it whispers of grandeur while struggling with the human, economic and emotional tolls of the pandemic.
This last Sunday is an invite to live with compassion and consciousness, to recognize need and purpose, to take action and to make a difference. The tenderness of a benevolent monarch is embedded in the readings: the simple shepherd, faithful to his call, tends to his sheep. And then, in the Gospel from mat. 25, it becomes even more clear.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
This kingdom, this Christ, seeks benevolence from each person. This is a kingdom that is about recognizing realities and moving with courage and conviction towards providing immediate assistance. In a sense, it is tasking the role of shepherd to each human being. Each is meant to care for the other, to do what can be done for each other. It is about living goodness, sharing compassion, and accepting responsibility for self and others.
The concept of a benevolent, generous god is aligned with the vision of a monarch who truly loves and cares for the people of the kingdom. It is not about power, aggression, subjugation or oppression. It is about loving with gracious fidelity and opening pathways that may not have existed before. It is about leaving the world better than we found it, about daring to live with generous hearts and accepting spirits. It is about realizing we belong on both sides of the equation, as givers and receivers, and that life itself is part of the exchange. And, finally, it is about the constancy of Christ’s presence in the very routine matters of daily life.
The King provides an example, a model, an inspiration. Aligned with the subjects, the King faithful to their issues and concerns. The King is trusting in the fidelity of the subjects. In every way, it is an active relationship, real and very human. For hundreds of years, the monarchy model was familiar and understood. Now, in a secular society grappling with the rich realities of democracy, the fullest meaning is more elusive. It can be shrouded in misunderstanding or dismissed as something irrelevant.
But the feast points, too, to a second reality. Human life does not stretch beyond the grave. But the acts of kindness, the moments of generosity and love, those live on. History is made in the healing of hearts and heroes are carved from the choices they make. The grand narratives of history are resplendent with victories and triumphs. But tucked beneath all that is this Kingdom of Christ’s: a place where conflict is met with charity and suffering with compassion, all the things that really matter to human beings. Long Live the King!