King and Shepherd – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
This final Sunday of the liturgical year is celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King. The days from now until next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, are devoted to eschatological themes. Pay careful attention to the readings each day, to hear themes of the end times.
Christ the King will restore all creation and restore his kingdom to the Father. The risen people of God will rejoice in a new heaven and a new earth.
The notion of Christ as King is connected today to language of a shepherd seeking his sheep. Christ is not a king with a fine palace, throne, no exquisite jewellery, and certainly no collection of pages and servants!
We may have to abandon our preconceived notions of kings and other royal characters. Christ the King has what Pope Francis says is the smell of the sheep, the smell from being with the sheep, in all of their mess.
Scripture includes the reminder from the Prophet Ezekiel of the words of God: “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. … I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”
God goes on, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak … I will feed my sheep with justice.” Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel as having pity on people, because they are like sheep without a shepherd.
This calls to mind the well-known words of Pope Francis about priests and religious leaders needing to have the smell of the sheep. He says that we can bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need and stay close to the marginalized, by being “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”
Francis suggested that this calls the priest to “put his own skin and own heart on the line.” When he originally used this image, he spoke of those serving the poor, prisoners, the sick, and those who are sorrowing and alone. Francis urges his priests to not grow weary of people’s requests and needs no matter how significant or trivial they are.
I know that Francis addressed these words to priests. However, I would suggest that they apply to all Christians.
We see this very clearly in the Gospel for today. Matthew 25’s king says:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The king goes on, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”
I was reminded of a song from Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian artist. Cry of A Tiny Babe reminds us that,
“There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums.”
The Feast of Christ the King (and Christmas as well) celebrates a God who is with all of us, but especially the poor and marginalized.