Christ the King – Sunday next before Advent Matthew 25: 31-end
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry 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.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
The gospels emphatically hail Christ as a king, heir to the throne of David, as well as the King of Heaven – ‘The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David’, says the Angel Gabriel: ‘and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’
In the gospels the life of Jesus is framed by kingship. At his Nativity three kings are seeking the new-born King of the Jews. Think of the Magi, eyes fixed on the star, dazzled by its brightness and calling at the obvious place to find a king – the royal palace of Herod. While the king they seek, will be found in the least likely of places – a humble stable.
Think of the Palm Sunday crowds who seem to speak prophetic truth as they shout “Hosanna to the Son of David” but whose expectations of an uprising and messianic triumph are disappointed by the events of Good Friday.
At his crucifixion, the notice hammered onto the top of his cross ironically echoes the same unfulfilled promise – ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews.’ What kind of king begins his earthly life in a stable and ends it as the victim of a cruel public execution? His own reaction to the question as to whether he was a king, is, at least to Pilate, elusive. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ demands Pilate. Jesus replied ‘My kingdom is not of this world.'
During his ministry Jesus chooses different ways to explain the kingdom – a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, some leaven mixed with dough. He constantly reminded them and us just how close king and kingdom really are. The paradox of the kingdom within and the kingdom we pray to come.
Where will we find Christ the King? Not with heralds and trumpets, not with pageantry and unmistakeable majesty but we will recognising the king where he is always to be found – with those on the edge.
Suddenly the question of judgement and choices comes close to home as we realise that it is our judgements, our choices that will make all the difference.
Those judgements, those choices we make will be governed by our allegiance to either Christ the king or to other rulers.
If we want to live in the kingdom, then Christ the king is the one who sets the standards, who shows us what kingdom life will be like.
Christ, who chooses to spend his time with the marginalised, the oppressed, the forgotten.
Christ who is utterly committed to those who nobody values, nobody respects.
Christ who identifies himself so completely with “the least of these” that when we look at them, we know we are seeing him too.
The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner.
People who need us, who need very specific care, not just a generalised expression of good will.
People we probably won't be at ease with, people who may demand things that we find it very hard to deliver.
People we might not like, but are called to love.
People in whose faces we should expect to see the face of Christ.
Thomas Merton observed that the kingdom of God is not one that preaches a particular doctrine or follows certain religious practices, it is the kingdom of those who love. That's what lies at the heart of our parable – and at the heart of the kingdom.
The two great commandments of Love.
To love Christ our King is to love what he has made, children, men and women, joyous, broken, hopeful or despairing.
To love our neighbours is to love the One in whose image they and we are made and to recognise the divine image not on stamps or coins but in their faces, wherever we encounter them.
That's what it means to be true to the kingdom, to love, and love again. It is not a one off gesture that we respond to and wait another year until the appeal to help comes around.
Bonhoeffer Dietrich was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, he asked the question 'how may Christ take form among us today?’ Here is both a mystery and a mystery solved. As we look for Christ among those whom we encounter and we consider how we can be Christ to them, we see they are one and the same, two sides of one coin.
We may not realise, in our active loving, that we are serving Christ. As the parable unfolds it offers a wonderful surprise for those who didn't recognise that in loving service of the outcast they were offering loving service to the king.
Ultimately there is, just one commandment, the commandment of love, and real love is always manifested in action, and only living lives that love will build the kingdom of God here on earth.
We aren't asked to decide who might be sheep or goats, all we are asked to do is to carry on loving – wildly, indiscriminately, just as Christ our King does.