Today we celebrate the solemnity of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. It is the final Sunday of this liturgical year, during which we have been on a collective journey through the birth of Jesus, his ministry, passion, death, and resurrection, and then on into the growth of the Church and the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. And as this liturgical year ends, each of our readings point to the end of time, to the Last Judgment, when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the world and bring an end to this age.
And in our readings we are given several images of who Jesus our King is, or how he appears in this world. In our first reading, the primary image is of Jesus as a shepherd. When I visited the Holy Land while in seminary, I remember once on a bus seeing a real live shepherd by the road, and he was looking at his smartphone. Hopefully the sheep were not wandering off while he was staring at it. Jesus is a different kind of shepherd, as Ezekiel tells us. Jesus looks after his sheep; he goes out to rescue them when they have wandered off and gotten into danger; he pastures his sheep, or gives food to them; he cares for and heals the sick and the injured. He is the Good Shepherd and we are his flock, and He loves us beyond our own imagination. Even now he seeks out the wandering and lost souls; he seeks to nourish us and heal us from the wounds that we receive in this life: the wounds that are self-inflicted and those that others inflict upon us. Jesus as shepherd teaches us about his mercy.
Another image of Jesus in our readings is of a judge. But while human judges can sometimes be corrupt and have poor or limited judgment, Jesus is truly just and, knowing all things and being able to read all human hearts, judge justly and wisely; he does not make a mistake in his judgments. Jesus as judge teaches us about his justice. He desires to set things aright. Where there is disorder he seeks to restore order; where there is corruption he seeks to purify. As judge, he desires to eradicate anything and everything that causes us harm. He desires to put an end to all injustice in the world.
And it is clear that each one of us will be judged by the Lord. Or rather, that we will judge ourselves by how we have lived our lives, by how we have responded to the graces God has given us and how we have made use of the gifts that he has given us. We hear about this final judgment in our Gospel reading, when Jesus comes in all his glory. And we hear about for what we will be judged. And, at least in this Gospel, it primarily has to do with how we cared for one another in this life, especially those whom Jesus refers to as “these least ones” – the poorest, the most unfortunate, the most miserable, those who suffer the most. Have we fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned? This can be understood of course in a very literal sense, for in every age including our own there are people who suffer from hunger and thirst, who are sick, in prison, and so on. But it is about more than just providing for the material needs of others. We must not neglect their spiritual needs either. However we do it, it means sharing God’s love with others.
And in this Gospel, we see Christ revealed in yet another way: he identifies himself with anyone who is in need, especially with those whom he calls “these least ones”. Jesus is especially present in a mystical way with those who are suffering, those who are lonely, those who are unwanted by the world. Whenever we share God’s love with them, we can be sure that we are also loving and serving God himself. This is a great mystery: they are of course not God Himself, but He is present in them.
How do we love and serve the least ones? First, we must stop paying so much attention to ourselves and our needs. I’m not saying ignoring them, just stop putting ourselves and our needs, our agendas, our opinions at the center of our lives. I think we all know that there’s a lot of fear and anxiety out there right now – certainly more so than at any other time in my life. We have parishioners who are ill with Covid. And all the other diseases and illnesses are still out there as well. And there are many people who have been isolated from family and friends for months. There are many who have lost jobs and businesses. And just about everybody is struggling with the mental strain that this year has imposed on us. You don’t have to look far to find someone who is in need of God’s love.
Remember, when we love and serve others – especially the neediest, those who are truly in need – we are serving Jesus Christ Himself, Our Lord and Our King. And whether we do this or not, and how we live our lives even now, will have either eternal consequences, or an eternal reward.