November 23, 2014 – The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ez 34: 11-12, 15-17; Ps 23: 1-3, 5-6; 1 Cor 15: 20-26, 28; Mt 25: 31-46
“Come, you who are blessed by my father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Jesus states those words as His invitation to each of us to join Him in His Kingdom. Of course, he also includes some provisos that require us to demonstrate Christian love — including feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and care for the sick.
Today we commemorate the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Kingdom of God that Jesus represents is referred to often in the Bible. In fact, in the four Gospels, the word “kingdom” appears very often. The Gospel of Mark mentions the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” 14 times; Luke 32 times; Matthew 37 times; John 2 times. Jesus is the Lord of all Creation. We understand that this kingdom is not the kind with which we are familiar in the secular world. In fact, the Lord makes the point over and over that it is not of this earth. Nevertheless, Jesus’ initial announcement when He begins His ministry is with the prophetic words “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15)
Jesus is a different kind of king. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel stresses the idea of the Lord as the Good Shepherd. “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” To emphasize that He is this shepherd, God speaks first hand to us in this reading. Eleven times He uses the personal pronoun “I.” He makes it clear from “I will tend my sheep” to “I will rescue” to “I will heal.” All of this as prophecy anticipates the Messiah, and the use of this personal pronoun makes it clear that the Messiah will be more than a man. It is also worth noting the Responsorial Psalm for this Solemnity is the beautiful and poetic 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” This trust in God, this belief in Him as the Shepherd and the Guardian, is that trust that allows us to live lives of stewardship — lives that know that He will protect us and be with us and whatever commitments we make through stewardship, God will enable us to succeed.
In the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians Paul also refers to the kingdom and the reign of God. He uses a term for Christ that has a strong stewardship connection. Paul tells us that Christ is the “first fruits” –that is, He is at the basis of all our faith and all our hope. Through stewardship we are to return our first fruits to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving. In fact, the Greek word aparche means “first fruits” and it is that word that is used both to describe Jesus and to call us to make that offering to God.
Jesus’ reminder to us in the Gospel of Matthew that we will be judged based upon how we treat others, as He can be found in all others, and we need to recognize that, is poignant and touching. The ongoing challenge of stewardship and the obstacle to a Christian life for many of us can be found in the word “apathy.” That is what Jesus is telling us: that it is not just a question of what we do, but that our attitude toward this is equally condemning. We may think that not turning our back on those in need is all right, but the Lord is telling us that even though we may feel that we have done nothing immoral, our lack of interest in the needs of others is just as bad. We must not be unconcerned about the gifts God has given us; in fact, we need to use those gifts to build the Kingdom of God. And we certainly cannot show a lack of care for those in need. Jesus has made this point throughout His ministry. The cost of indifference is as great as that of openly mistreating others. Even the well known author and playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that is the essence of inhumanity.”