Ezekiel 34:11-12. 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26. 28; Matthew 25:31-46
The grand title of the Solemnity we celebrate today is Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King. It takes a little while to let the full meaning of these words sink in – Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King – King of the Universe!
But what a shock the very first words of our celebration! - words which the Church places on our lips in the Entrance Antiphon: The Lamb who was slain… .
With the very first step we take to celebrate the great feast we are stopped dead in our tracks, stunned! Our Lord and Universal King is … the Lamb who was slain!
We Australians have some idea of what it means to have a king because we have a Queen. She is the Queen of Australia. Impeccably well-spoken and impeccably well-dressed she visits the various countries in her realm where gentlemen bow to her and ladies courtesy. Wherever she goes she rides in expensive limousines or in even more expensive royal coaches drawn by beautiful horses. Although today the Queen ‘rules’ her kingdom as little more than a figurehead it was not so long ago that the royal family ruled with absolute authority.
So, to call Jesus a King, even a Universal King, is not really a great difficulty for us. It just means that instead of ruling the British Empire he rules the whole universe. No problem! And what’s more, the gospel we have just read cooperates obligingly in reinforcing this traditional idea.
Centre stage, just as one would expect, there is ‘the throne of glory’ to which the Son of Man will come ‘in his glory’, escorted, unsurprisingly, by ‘all the angels’. He will take his throne and ‘all the nations’, every single human being ever born, will be assembled before him to be judged. Everything as it should be!
[The language of the Jerusalem Bible translation is wonderfully subtle. The nations will not just assemble, they will be assembled. We get a little bit of that sense of reluctance many will experience in coming before the great King as well as the power of the irresistible decree which commands their presence.
And they will not just be assembled; they will be assembled before him. The sheep belong to the shepherd and now, at long last, they will assume that proper relationship to him which human freedom frequently chose to ignore. And it will be precisely that relationship to the King which will constitute the substance of his judgment.]
But here we are in for another shock, or rather, we are in for the first shock all over again. The King will not pronounce judgment against us because we have failed the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely and the naked; he will pronounce us guilty because we have failed him! Not ‘they were hungry’ but ‘I’ was hungry!
In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me – not to one of the least of these ‘subjects’ of mine but to the least of these ‘brothers’ of mine - not ‘you did it for me’ but ‘you did it to me’. It’s beginning to look as though we might need to radically rethink our understanding of Christ as Universal King.
It is, of course, the shepherd who calls the lambs and the goats to assemble before him. Jesus is king according to the Davidic model of shepherd-king. The beautiful image from the first reading sets this image firmly in our minds: As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. Jesus truly is a ‘true shepherd’ to his sheep.
When the wolf approaches what does the true shepherd do? He becomes a sheep! No, more! He becomes a lamb. He draws the wolf to attack him, rather than his sheep, and he becomes ‘the Lamb who was slain’.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, became one of us and died in our place. In so far as the wolf did this to me, the shepherd, he did it to you – and as I rose from the dead, so did you.
Perhaps now we are a little closer to glimpsing the astonishing identification the shepherd makes with his sheep. If Jesus allowed us to be torn to pieces by the wolf in his flesh and to rise to new life in his resurrection, is it any wonder that he now considers any act of love towards us as love shown to him? In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.
Jesus Christ is not just Lord, or King, he is our Lord, our King; he leads us from within ourselves; he is truly among us. We have been transformed into him, without ceasing to be ourselves – that is why we must love one another ... because it is the way he has loved us.