Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Solemnity of Christ the King – November 26, 2017
Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton
The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote these words about judgment and death. “When we get to heaven, there will be three surprises. … We will be surprised by the people that we find there, many of whom we surely had not expected to see. … We will be surprised by the people who are absent – the ones we did expect to see but who are not there. … And finally, the third surprise – of course – will be that we’re there!”
We don’t often talk about judgment and death, much less ponder out loud what’s in store for each of us when we pass from this world into the next. In fact, the gospel from Saint Matthew that we just heard proclaimed on this great feast of Christ the King is the only description of the Last Judgment in any of the gospels. … While of course we are saved by the mercy of God and our faith in Jesus Christ, the same Jesus in today’s parable reminds us that judgment is linked to the pattern of our lives, which authenticate our faith. … It certainly seems, then, to be the case from today’s scriptures that the degree to which we will be at peace in eternity is rooted in a reality of life that is both disarmingly simple yet the very essence of the Christian message.
In his vision of the final judgment, Matthew presents Christ as the king who sits in judgment – but more like a shepherd who separates sheep from goats. And in that moment of judgment, precisely who Jesus has been and continues to be throughout his life and ministry comes to the fore. Jesus, yet again, reminds us of how God has chosen to work and be present in our world and where God can be found. … In other words, if we seek to encounter God in our lives – yes, pray – yes, listen to God’s word in the scriptures – yes, receive the Lord Jesus in the sacraments – but recognize that this body of believers that we know as the Church – you and I who are made in the very image and likeness of God – is also where the Lord can and will be found. It’s no surprise, that as he speaks of judgment and how we have engaged the presence of God in our lives and lived as his disciples, Jesus clearly and unequivocally identifies himself with the poor and broken in today’s gospel of the final judgment.
Suddenly, our place in eternity is gauged less by our ability to articulate the nuances of what we believe as Christians. Instead, compassion and charity become the standards for determining our entry into eternity. Our place in God’s kingdom will be determined by our ability to reach beyond ourselves to bring justice, peace and reconciliation into the lives of everyone. … Who would ever imagine that God would link such basics of life – food, drink, and welcome – to our final judgment? Recall today’s gospel, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothes me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
And yet, for as simple as the basis for our judgment may be – it is likely more challenging for me and each of you than we may imagine. In spite of our confession at the beginning of this and every Mass – forgive me Lord “for what I have done and what I have failed to do” – we often feel that we are doing enough in this complicated world by simply avoiding evil as our ticket into eternity even if, in the process, we fail to go the extra mile to do the right – the good.
Today’s familiar and somewhat disturbing parable reminds us that it is not so much what we do that will do us in, but what we do not do.
So often we cling to all that we’ve been given in life and are hesitant to let go of our time, our resources, and our lives for the sake of another. … We worry that we’ll have less than what we need in the process of giving. … Yet, have you ever stopped to consider that everything you and I possess – everything – will one day belong to somebody else? We don’t carry with us to the day of judgment dollars and cents, houses and cars, rings and things. We do, however, carry with us the love that we’ve shared, the faith we’ve lived, the kindness that we’ve shown and the forgiveness that we’ve given to all who are the face of Jesus in our world.
The blessed Saint Teresa of Calcutta put today’s gospel theme on this solemnity of Christ the King so succinctly when she said: “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we’ve received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by the words of the gospel: I was hungry and you gave me to eat. … I was naked and you clothed me. … I was homeless and you took me in. Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love; naked not only of clothing – but naked of human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a room of bricks, but homeless because of rejection.”
The opportunity to live this gospel and to serve Jesus abounds in our midst every day. As we reflect upon how we have been blessed by God, may we pray for the courage to live as Jesus lived – to give away what we’ve been given – and so prepare our way to an eternity of peace.