Here we are, at Christ the King Sunday, the feast day that dates to 1925. It came at a time in the world where God seemed to be losing ground. The First World War had been fought, and the powers of nationalism and secularism were rising. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to lend courage to Christians whose faith might be flagging, to remind nations that the Church has a right to freedom and immunity from the state, and in hopes that leaders and nations would be bound to give respect to Christ.
This is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time—the end of the time in our lectionary of exploring what it means to be a disciple. It is about discipleship and, so it is about us. This understanding about the Christian life reflects one of the mottos of the Jesuits. They are to be contemplatives in action. In other words, to be grounded and centred in our faith in Jesus, so that we would know where God was calling us to action in the world around us. If we are all contemplatives that don’t do anything with the experience of God’s power that we have, then what’s the point? If all we do is reach out to others, but don’t go back to the wellspring of God’s living water and drink deeply, then we’ve missed our call and can become empty shells. We must have both.
Our Gospel of Matthew story of the sheep and the goats asks us a searching question that can be difficult to bear: are we admirers of Jesus or are we followers? The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes the difference like this: “The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.” Becoming a disciple of Jesus is no easy task. Many throughout the ages have admired Jesus, but far fewer have chosen the sacrifice of following. Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say of her work with the destitute: “In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread. In our work we find Him under the appearance of flesh and blood. It is the same Christ. ‘I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.’”
St. John Chrysostom, the great patriarch of Eastern Catholicism, said the same thing in the fourth century: “Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore Him when He is naked. Do not pay Him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect Him outside where He suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food’, and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’ . . . What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices, when He is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying His hunger, and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.”
There is a sign in a church that has gone around on Facebook for the past few years and it says, “Sometimes I want to ask God why [God] allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when [God] could do something about it, but I’m afraid [God] might just ask me the same question.” As Christians, we believe that God has full claim on our lives. We are coming into the season of Advent next week and are reminded that God loved us so much that God would become human—become one of us—so that we would fully understand what that claim was and how deep the love goes. How do we translate this love to others? Jesus tells us in our Gospel today that when we feed or welcome or give clothing or visit the sick or those in prison that we are, in turn, feeding, welcoming, clothing, and visiting him. When people respond to human need—or fail to respond—they are responding or failing to respond to Jesus himself.
Through our belief in Jesus, we have the power to heal other people’s lives, just by our presence in theirs. We are called to be healers. We receive our strength, not from ourselves, but from God. On this Christ the King Sunday, our scriptures are clear about the “immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power for us who believe.” As we complete another turning of the wheel of liturgical time, may we renew our commitment to be grounded in this power to seek Christ in all persons and love our neighbour as ourselves, even though we may look foolish to the world for loving so lavishly, and we may fail. With God’s help, we can also, thankfully, begin again. AMEN.