Homily for Feast of Christ the King 2008
We know the year is coming to an end because "Schoolies" week is upon us. The Liturgical year ends today as well on this Feast of Christ the King! Schoolies week began as a celebration of the end of a person's school years. Some say that, in the absence of a rite of passage into adult hood in our society, Schoolies Week has become for some a bizzare subsititute with its tendency to binge drinking. I was interested to read that one school is prmoting "Coolies" week. Instead of going to the Gold Coast for a party students are going to work in an orphanage overseas for two weeks. That is certainly putting Christ first.
The Roman Emperor Constantine was baptized in 337AD. He had put it off for years. He remained a catechumen until nearing the end of his life. A few years earlier he had deciminalised Christianity as we might say today. This began the process which led to it becoming the state religion of the Empire under the Emperor Theodosius in 380AD. All this was a mixed blessing for the Church. It meant the final end of persecution. The martydom of so many Christians did have its effect so that people did begin to ask what motivated them. But it also meant that the Church became very powerful politically, especially as the Empire itself declined. It was then that Bishops began wearing purple robes which was the dress of the Roman Senators. Churches took on the shape of the Roman public buildings called basilicas. And the government of the Church mirrored that of the empire as well. As all this settled down into what became known as the Holy Roman Empire, or Christendom, Islam came onto the scene with surprising rapidity and power.
In this context it is not surprising that the image of Christ as King becomes popular. Up till that time Jesus was most often represented as the Good Shepherd. Both images find their place in the readings of today just as both images were on Jesus lips. But Christianity also started to forget that Jesus' kingdom was not of this world.
In the Gospel passage Jesus is represented as both Shepherd and King. As shepherd he is sorting out the sheep and goats. As King he is passing sentence on the sheep and goats. This story of the Last Judgement is one of those passages which really define the nature of Christianity. What confounds us is that the only ethical or moral criterion the judge uses is whether a person performs or does not perform the six works of mercy. And those six works of mercy are repeated again and again in the story: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner.
From Jesus' perspective we have already passed judgement on ourselves depending on our response to these people in need. What is astonishing for us is that He identifies himself with them, "the least of these who are members of my family." His only role as Judge is to pass sentence. Here Matthew reports what Jesus has been saying all along in his interpretation of the Torah, the Law of Moses: What God wants is mercy, not sacrifice. His exercise of kingship is to be seen in that light.
We do have difficulty making the identification of Christ with the least of his brothers and sisters. It is hard to see Christ in others. People just do not measure up! We like the people in the parable are surprised when he says, if you did this to the least of these you did it to me. If we have that difficulty we could ask ourselves on the other hand, am I being Christ to them? It amounts to the same thing.
There is a tendency to judge the worth of people only according to their economic contribution to society. That leaves out the very young and the very old, volunteers, home mothers and home fathers. Then there are those who fall through the cracks, the mentally ill, the homeless, and so on. It is encouraging to hear that the St Vincent de Paul Society has begun a campaign to seek out accomodation for the homeless in Queensland by reusing surpless land and buildings that the Church owns.
This feast today challenges us to give our priority to that which truly matters: Not ambitious greed and power, but the simple everyday things that make our world more just and peaceful. When we do this we are heirs of the kingdom.Fr Graham