In celebrating the feast of Christ the King, one would expect the Mass readings to showcase Jesus, the Messianic King, reigning supreme in heavenly glory. One would expect to hear scriptural passages such as the final triumph of Christ, the “King of kings and Lord of lords”, over all forces of evil (cf. Revelation 19:11-15); or perhaps the Ascension, in which the exalted Christ was crowned with glory at the right hand of God (cf. Mk 16:19).
What we hear instead is a God whose greatest concern is his sheep, which are “scattered”, in need of “rest”, “strayed”, and “injured”; sheep that need to be shepherded rightly (see the 1st reading). Why are passages such as this the focus of the Christ the King celebration? What does shepherding have to do with Jesus’ kingship?
To God, a king should care about his people the way a shepherd cares about his flock: his duty, first and foremost, is to safeguard the well-being of the people that God entrusted to him. A king’s position of authority is given to him to serve and not to dictate, to give and not to receive, to empty himself (as Jesus did in emptying himself and sacrificing his life for us) and not to inflate. Unlike all the self-serving kings in history who misused the authority that God gave them for self-gratification, Jesus, the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16) will take care of his people like a Good Shepherd. For “the Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1), chanted David, whose unique position as a shepherd king is already a prefiguration of Christ. No wonder in the gospel reading, we are told that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, “all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:32).
This is a powerful message for everyone in a leadership position to reflect on. Kings and governors, clergy and church leaders, teachers and parents: Are you using your God-given authority and resources for the edification of the people entrusted to your care and not for your own self-gratification? Do you use your power to serve or to oppress? Are you good shepherds? Your honest answers to these questions may well determine where Jesus, the Shepherd King, will place you when he returns in his glory. You will either join the sheep on his right that go off to eternal life, or find yourselves among the goats on his left that are bound for eternal punishment (cf. Mt. 25:33,46).
As we conclude this reflection on Christ the King, let’s lift up our gaze to the Crucifix where Pilate’s inscription “INRI” (Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews), ominously displayed atop the Cross and strategically placed above the battered and bloodied body of the crucified Christ, reminds the world what a king truly looks like.
The above is my reflection on the Mass readings of Christ the King, 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – November 23, 2014:
Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46