Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe November 22, 2020
The Church in her wisdom gives us the feast of Christ the King of the Universe as the final celebration of the liturgical year. Over the last 51 weeks we have delved into the life and teachings of Jesus and hopefully have come to not only know him better, but have also come to experience a deepening of our relationship with him. Everything that we have listened to over the last 51 weeks culminates here and now with our recognition, acceptance, and profession of Christ Jesus as our Lord and King. It serves as a wonderful reminder of why we gather every week to give praise and glory to God as we prepare to begin delving, yet again, into the life and mystery of Christ Jesus as a new liturgical year begins.
This feast day was originally celebrated on the Sunday before All Saints Day. Following the First World War, many people, having experienced the brutality of the conflict, and the massive casualties inflicted by modern warfare armaments, began to question the existence of God. Atheism was on the rise. Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 in response to the growth of atheism, secularism, and clericalism in modern society with his papal encyclical Quas Primas. In 1970, the Church renamed the feast, "King of the Universe," to draw attention to the fact that Jesus' kingdom not only spans the world, but the universe, and time and space as well. The date was moved to the last Sunday in Ordinary, where it remains today.
Today, one can make a sound argument that secularism has become even more dominant with individualism rising to such an extreme that for many people the only authority that needs to be heeded is that of the "self" leading to self glorification. Individuals are striving to craft God in their image so that they may justify the life they desire to live rather than the life to which they are called and created to live. Structured religion is frowned upon and authority is often the subject of mistrust. The sign of the times makes this feast day of the Church even more relevant today, as we are reminded that our call to discipleship means that we subject our will to the will of God, and allow him to lead us to holiness. For no matter how self-important we may envision ourselves, we cannot achieve salvation on our own.
The First Reading
Ezekiel was a prophet whose ministry spanned right before the Babylonian Exile and into Babylonian captivity where he died about 570 BC. His message was directed to the people of Israel in general, but in particular to the last King of Israel, Zedekiah, who was appointed King by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon when the Babylonians made Israel its tributary. In the end, the Babylonians conquered Israel, killed Zedekiah's sons, and put out his eyes before carrying him in chains back to Babylon where he died in captivity.
This week's pericope carries with it a stern warning to Zedekiah. As the King, he was God's steward, responsible for God's Chosen People. Like God, the title of shepherd was also used to describe the king's role. As a steward, it was the king's responsibility to tend to the needs of God's people. However, Ezekiel is clear that Zedekiah has failed God and the people in his role as king, and so declares that God himself will now look after and tend his sheep. The kings' actions and those of his predecessors have scattered the people. They have been led astray, but God will now step in and rescue them, pasture them, and give them rest. He will seek out those that have strayed and bind up those who are wounded. Those who are sick will be healed. What beautiful images of reconciliation and redemption these are!
Yet, Ezekiel makes it clear that the sleek and strong in the flock will be destroyed. We must not think of this reference as being directed towards those who are healthy or righteous in any way. Rather, these sleek and strong individual are the self-righteous, like Zedekiah, who refuse to submit their will to God and allow him to lead. They are the prideful who think they know what is best, as if they could know more than God. In essence they are the people who, rather than serve God, serve themselves, placing themselves over and above not only others, but God himself.
The connotations for this Solemnity are clear. God is God and we are not. As our Lord and King, we are obligated to submit our will to the will of God. He is our divine sovereign. This obligation stems not from blind obedience, but rather from love. It is an obligation to which we freely submit when we recognize the love of God, his c0are for his people, and his desire to reconcile us unto himself. We cannot help but give ourselves over completely to God.
Paul packs a powerful punch in this week's pericope from his first letter to the Corinthians. It is a perfect reading to end the Church year upon because it speaks of the end of time itself, and the sovereignty of Christ Jesus as King. Paul reminds us that God's divine rescue plan was put into action to reverse the damage wrought by Adam. If one man could bring about our ruination, then one man, Jesus Christ, can bring about our salvation and redemption. Disobedience is reversed by obedience. Selfishness is reversed by self-gift and sacrifice. The salvation won for us on the cross does not end there. We will be resurrected with him when he comes again in glory. As human persons, we are a soul and a body. The former needs the latter and vice versa for the person to exist. When we suffer death, our soul is separated from the body rendering us in a diminished state, though be it temporarily, until our bodies are resurrected and reunited with our souls.
Paul also declares Jesus' absolute sovereignty over all the earth. As King of the Universe, his return in glory will see all things subjected to him save God himself. Once that occurs, Jesus will then submit everything he has to God. In the Garden he submitted his will to his Father's will. On the cross, he submitted his life for love of God and love of us. In his return in glory, he will submit all that he has won through his death and resurrection, which includes us, to God. Jesus is forever submitting himself to his Father in perpetual love (especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!), and so we, as his disciples, are called upon as his subjects, to submit ourselves to him.
Again, we hear Jesus speak of the end of the world and time as we know it. The Church's study of the end times is known as eschatology. In this week's Gospel Jesus paints and incredible portrait of the final day when he and all the angels in heaven descend upon the world so that as King of the Universe, he may judge his subjects accordingly. So we must ask ourselves what will be the rubric used when Jesus comes in glory to judge us? That's easy. It's Love.
Whether or not we inherit the salvation won for us depends on how we have loved others, and by way of others, God. It is not enough to call Jesus "Lord" for not everyone who cries, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom. If we truly profess Christ to be our Lord and King then we need to subject ourselves to him. The primacy of love needs to be the motivation in such a submission, for God himself is love. To inherit the kingdom, we must subject ourselves to Jesus, as Jesus subjected himself to the Father. Jesus continuously poured himself out in perpetual love of God, so too are we called to pour ourselves out to God, and the easiest way we do this is by serving others. Simply put, if we see a need, we fill that need. Regardless of the the cost. Regardless of the inconvenience. Regardless of the sacrifice.
Jesus made it clear in the Gospel a few weeks ago that love of God is liken to love of neighbor. The two are intricately connected. An individual cannot achieve one while forsaking the other. John makes it clear in his epistle that it is impossible to love a God whom we cannot see, when we do not love our neighbor whom we do see. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in his parable this week, when he states unequivocally that what you do for the least of others you do for him. Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. Do you really love like that? Are you capable of such love? That is something to take to prayer as we prepare to celebrate the love of God incarnate at Christmas.
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