Solemnity of Christ the King
In our Gospel reading for Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus gives a description of the Last Judgment. The people are separated into two groups. The ones who are welcomed into the kingdom of God are those who met the needs of others. They fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked and visited the sick and those in prison. They are welcomed into the kingdom, because, as the king says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did for me. Conversely, those who did not do these things for “one of these least ones,” are condemned to eternal punishment.
Basically, the message is that if we are to follow our King, and enter eternal life, we are to minister to the needs of those who are the “least,” or for me, those who are considered “least.” But I also thought about what Jesus did, according to the Gospels. Besides the miraculous feeding of the thousands by the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, there are few, if any, more instances where He directly answers someone’s material needs. But He does give of Himself to those considered “least:” lepers, tax collectors, sinners, those possessed by demons, foreigners, the sick, the disabled, women, children, and others.
And then, the challenge hit me. Are we to minister to the ones we consider the “least?” Are we to minister to the ones we feel deserve our contempt? I can’t help but think the answer is “Yes.” Considerations like this do not mean we are free to ignore those in material need. Very often, when we meet someone’s material needs, we meet deeper needs as well. When Jesus feeds the thousands with the multiplication of the loaves and fish, He has been meeting their hearts’ yearning for Good News.
So, how do we answer the challenge? By doing the best we can in following Jesus, who gave of Himself for us. In Jesus, God makes good on the prophecy spoken by the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17): “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord God. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.” We follow God’s mercy and generosity, but leave to God the condemnation.
There is a quote from St. Louise de Marillac, which I think is appropriate: “To share what one has is nothing if one does not give oneself.” Again, an almost impossible challenge, but God will give us what we need to do it, in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. May we follow our King, who in the words of the hymn, “looked beyond” our faults and saw our need.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.