Christ the King Gospel Lectio Divina - 11/26/23
Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who 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 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.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, 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 no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory”
Let’s not forget what the liturgical year has been leading us to. Through the seasons of Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time, and then the month of November—when the Church calls us to reflect on the end of life—we are being led on a spiritual journey that ends with meeting Christ the King, the Son of Man in all his glory. It should come as no surprise, then, that this week’s Gospel reminds us of the Final Judgment. Throughout the year, Christ taught us how to love, and he led by example. He taught about God’s mercy, the Beatitudes, serving others even when it meant sacrificing something we value. He taught about the joy that awaits us in heaven if we follow him. Now it is time for us to put our cards on the table. Christ the King is a merciful and loving ruler, but he is also just.
“all the nations will be assembled before him”
It may just be a coincidence that the Feast of Christ the King occurs at a time when our nation is transfering power (the month of elections), but sometimes God speaks through coincidences. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his encyclical Quas primas of 1925, in response to growing secularism and nationalism. Upon entering the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., churchgoers are met with an intimidating image. When you enter into the nave of the basilica you see an enormous fresco of Christ the King in all his glory towering over the majestic altar. The message here is that, even when we are in the seat of secular power in perhaps the most powerful country in the world, there ought to be the reminder that Jesus Christ is still the final judge and he will have the final word.
“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”
It’s hard to live for something we know so little about. As St. Paul says, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). But Christ promises, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). In our fallen human state, do we even have the capacity to witness the full beauty of what God has in store for us, what he has been preparing for us since “the foundation of the world’? I would venture to say that our senses, hearts, and minds simply cannot fathom what awaits God’s good and faithful servants in heaven. This is what Jesus’ call to holiness is all about. Yes, it is hard to imagine what heaven may be like, but that difficulty calls us to even deeper faith and hope. It may all be foolishness in the eyes of the world, but so be it. We sacrifice our lives for the God we love, giving everything we do to him, and in doing so it only makes sense that the greatest award awaits us.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food … in prison and you visited me.”
Have you ever randomly met someone who you just knew must have entered your life for a God-given reason? That reason may have been to give you an encounter with Jesus Christ. No, that random person was not Jesus incarnate, but they may have been part of the Mystical Body of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful” and “triumphs over all human divisions”. As St Paul says, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…. for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). Every now and then God gives evidence of the Mystical Body’s unity. It may have been a simple question from a stranger who had fallen away from the faith. It may have been a homeless person who lost his family, and was trying to rediscover God through the charity of others. Did we reach out to these people? What can we do to make sure we do reach out to them in love the next chance we get?
“Depart from me, you accursed”
If we’re going to listen to Christ’s words of hope and comfort, we cannot ignore his confrontational words. For the second week in a row, Jesus is warning us of the punishment in store for those who do not love him and do not follow his commandments. Last week he said of the unfaithful servant, “throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” These are not words you often hear spoken from pulpits today. But Jesus is a just and wise judge who sees truth in its fullness, which is hard for us to do. The messages of the past couple weeks are meant to serve as formidable portents to deter us from sinning. Isn’t this similar to what a loving father would do to warn his children of imminent dangers? Would it be more loving if Jesus used softer words, and avoided telling us what awaits us if we sin and do not confess and do not turn to him? He would be like a parent who doesn’t warn his children about the dangers of crossing the street without looking first. To not say something to our beloved when danger is near is negligence, not love. A firm reprimand is necessary sometimes, especially when eternal life is in the balance.
“these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
St. Paul says to the Philippians, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Thank God we have the Gospel to serve as a constant reminder that we can’t just set our course to salvation on cruise control. Let this week’s words from Christ wake us up as we enter the Advent season. Our savior is coming. Will we be ready? Let’s hope he doesn’t find us idle, but busy serving him through love.
As we prepare for Advent, Lord Jesus, we invite you to come not only into our world but into our hearts. Only as loving servants can we genuinely see the need to be charitable to others. As we strive to be righteous through the works of mercy described in this week’s Gospel, give us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, so we may reflect your divine life, O Lord, in the world around us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Put aside whatever worries you may have about the holiday season for a moment. How does God want to enter into your life in a new way this Advent? Quiet your heart and mind so it is ready for the infant Jesus. Let him surprise you with the simplicity of his innocent smile. Sometimes that’s all we need.