I never lived in a “kingdom” until I studied in the Middle East. For several years of my graduate studies in Sacred Scripture, I had the privilege of accompanying then-Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah to Amman, Jordan once a month to lecture to his priests (Jordan is also part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) on the Psalms and Prophets of ancient Israel.
One of the pleasant memories of those many visits to Amman was listening to Jordanian Radio and Television each morning. I can still remember the solemn opening music and announcement in Arabic: “Good morning. You are listening to the news of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This morning the King arose and began another day. His majesty held meetings with the following people…” The hourly news would inform us of every movement and activity of the then ruling monarch, King Hussein of Jordan. How many times did I recall that song from Broadway’s “The King and I”: “I wonder what the king is doing tonight!” and thinking that it could be easily sung throughout the Hashemite Kingdom on a daily basis!
I learned much about King Hussein who was loved by his people because he came from them and was a sort of shepherd who remained very close to them. His son, King Abdullah II now walks in the footsteps of his father and continues to be a fine, moderate, intelligent and reconciling leader in a very volatile part of the world. Abdullah gives monarchy a good name.
Sunday's Gospel [Matthew 25] presents us with the great scene of the final judgment. It is the last teaching of Jesus before he goes to Jerusalem to face his crucifixion and death. His legacy is clear and very profound in its implications, but how difficult it is to live out every day!
Christ the King will separate the sheep from the goats at the end time on the basis of whether or not they have accepted the Word of God incarnate by accepting the ambassadors who were sent to proclaim that Word. Over and over again, we see that the parables are concerned with the acceptance or rejection of his preaching. Such acceptance or rejection is ultimately acceptance or rejection of the God who sent Jesus. To reject Jesus the Son is to reject God the Father. To reject a disciple sent by Jesus is to reject Jesus.
Jesus fully identifies himself with the needy, the marginalized and the dependent– the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. Everyone is included in the Royal Kingdom of the humble Jesus. His reign completely overturns our notions of earthly kingship. Jesus’ kingship and royalty are of ultimate service, even to the point of laying down his life for others.
The day is coming when there will be a great separation of all those who accept Jesus and his teaching from all those who reject him and his teaching. This is the heart of today's parable– not so much on trying to identify who are sheep and who are goats. The sheep that are at the Son of Man's right hand are those that recognized and accepted the messenger and the message. The goats on the left did not recognize or accept the messenger or the message.
Sunday's feast of Christ the King upsets some people. But is this not due to our own disillusionment of earthly kings, members of royal families, and political leaders, rather than the kingship of Jesus? The royalty and servanthood of God's Son refuses rank and privilege, and any attempt to be master of the world. Jesus dismantles the triangle of desire, violence and retribution. In him there is no lust, greed and ambition for power. He tells us that whenever we practice works of mercy, forgiveness, kindness, we are doing these things to him.
Who of us is not terribly moved when a member of earthly royalty “stoops” to assist the poor, to be present to the grieving, to reach out to those stricken with tragedy? If it is true that there is unique power in the combination of royalty and stooping, then there has never been anything comparable to the mission of the Son of God. Let us not reject the “kingly” imagery of Christ today, because it offers us an extraordinary opportunity to look at authentic royalty.
At the very peak of this king’s cosmic power, he reveals to us that the universe turns upon a cup of water given to the little ones in his name. An outpouring of the love of our hearts toward this king will therefore transcend all of those weak and uninspiring members of royal families in human history who often let us down, royally. Acts of mercy toward his little ones are vindicated already in the court of heaven, because God sees everything from above, and is the ultimate beneficiary of any of our poor yet sincere efforts to care for the needy, the marginalized and the dependent– the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned citizens of God’s kingdom. Long live Jesus, a real King!
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network
-To view Fr. Rosica's reflection online, click HERE.