To read the texts click on the texts: Ezek 34:11-12,15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46
Quas Primas (Latin for “In the first”) was an encyclical of Pope Pius XI promulgated on December 11, 1925. It introduced the Feast of Christ the King. World War I (1914-1918) had ended, and had not brought real peace, but more hatred, anger and violence. Coming as it did after the end of the War, the encyclical sought to give the world, as a whole, a new idea of kingship by asking it to look at Christ the Universal King, and how he lived out his kingship. Christ is a King who totally identifies with his subjects, particularly the marginalized – the poorest of the poor.
This identification is made explicit not only in the Gospel text for the feast but also in the first reading of today.
In the first reading, Ezekiel talks about God as the shepherd of Israel. The kings of Israel were regarded as God’s visible representatives and were given the divine title of shepherd. But many of them did not live up to this responsibility. Their leadership style differed from that of God’s. God’s style was that of giving priority of attention to the needs of the disadvantaged, especially their need for justice and empowerment. First God raised up prophets, like Ezekiel, to warn the kings. When they failed to listen, God decided to get rid of the ungodly kings and their beneficiaries, and promised that he would shepherd the flock himself. The defeat of Israel by her enemies, in which the big people, the royalty and the nobility, were banished into exile, was seen as God’s way of getting rid of the bad leadership.
The Gospel text which continues the theme of the first reading is not so much about the kingship of Jesus. Rather, it is a passage about the “kingdom” of God, about all those who kin to God, and, therefore, who are kin to each other. We are all kin to one another. We are all indeed one. The deepest expression of this truth, on this side of life, is a spirituality in which there is no split between our devotion and our deed; no split between mystery and commandment,; no split between piety and ethics and no split between being and doing. Like mystery and commandment, interwoven as they are, Jesus is one with the hungry and the thirsty, is one with the stranger and the prisoner, and is one with the naked and the sick. To care for these is to care for Jesus. To care for them is to reach back into the very essence of life and to touch the God who is in and with the hungry, the thirsty…” And then the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The text, thus, is not so much God’s condemnation of some people, as it is about the universal vision of the love of God, about the very scope of God’s love in Jesus for the whole world. Jesus remains the model of unconditional and eternal love. This was shown in the most powerful of ways by Jesus himself, when in total obedience to the Father, he dared to spread his arms on the Cross in total surrender of self. Therefore, God raised him.
This understanding is important to avoid any kind of misinterpretation that might arise due to a person thinking that it is his/her deeds that earn merit and reward. The righteous who reached out to the least of their brothers and sisters, did so because they understood it was necessity to help, love, serve, visit and feed. They dared to listen to the promptings of the Spirit and responded to these promptings. They did not do what they did for reward. They did not earn the kingdom but inherited it. Inheritance is determined by the giver not the receiver. The kingdom remains a free gift of God.
Though the unrighteous also addresses Jesus as Lord, it is not enough. Their address remains at the theoretical level and is not translated into action. They did not act because they did not believe that God could hide himself in the poorest of the poor. They did not realize that our God had been made visible in Jesus, who taught all who were willing to listen, that God was primarily a God of the poor, and that though he was king, he came only to serve.
The sufferings borne by the last of our brothers and sisters continue to summon and challenge us as Church today. They continue to ask us to dare to be credible and authentic witnesses of the Gospel. However, what we need is not merely more action, more doing for the sake of doing. No! What our King demands is a universal unity of love and togetherness. It is a togetherness that transcends all of our frontiers, the frontiers of our mind and of our heart, the frontiers of our creeds and doctrines – all of those externals that keep us apart, that keep us apart that keep us separated and split.
The challenge for us today is to forget our own needs and reach out in love to make someone else, who may be in greater need, happy. For whatever we do to the least needy children of God, these brothers and sisters of Jesus, we do to him.