In the Gospels Jesus uses the image of a kingdom many times to illustrate what the new life which he came to inaugurate will be like. While we have systems of government today that are elected by the people and not inherited from generation to generation we can nonetheless see the relevance of the kingdom image, unifying as it does an entire people under the leadership and providence of a benevolent ruler. Through the history of the Church many
Catholic nations in fact had kings, and the Church itself took on some features of a monarchy.
When we celebrate the solemn feast of Christ the King at present we look not to earthly dominion as the fulfillment of the Church’s mission, but rather to the conversion of all peoples to the kingdom of Christ which he himself said “is not of this world” (John 18:36). Reflecting on Christ the King and his realm today’s readings bring us to consider the final judgment which will signal the completion and perfection of the Kingdom. That the feast of Christ the King occurs at the end of the Church year (Advent begins next week) signals our belief that our Lord’s Kingdom will only come in its fullness at the end of time.
To prepare us for the end time the Church turns back to the prophet Ezekiel, who is speaking of the return of God’s chosen people to their former realm of Israel and the fearsome judgement that will accompany this homecoming. The same prophetic words can be applied to the Christian people, for before entering into God’s Kingdom we too will be subject to a judgment which is perfectly just and which allows for no appeal.
The second reading from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians explains that God’s power to act as a true King and just Judge is manifested through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Briefly, Paul tells us that Christ’s resurrection means two things for us: first, the fact that he was raised means that we too—whose nature he assumed—will be raised. Secondly, he teaches us that Christ’s resurrection is definitive proof of his victory over sin and death: “then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:24-26).
With all of this in mind, we must ask: How can we be judged worthy to stand with the “sheep” at the resurrection and enter the Kingdom of God? The Gospel’s fearsome last judgment scene provides an answer by outlining the moral consequences of being a disciple of Christ and reminding us how we must respond as those who have accepted the dominion of Christ our risen King, truly living as citizens of his Kingdom. If the Gospel sounds harsh, we should remember that earlier in the same Gospel Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
This sobering but ultimately hope-filled picture is affirmed elsewhere in the Bible when Saint Paul teaches that those who are members of Christ and who stand in the hope of the resurrection must live as though they are united with Christ always—they are to live in newness of life even in the present day (see Rom 6:4-11). Hoping to become full citizens of the Kingdom of Christ we rejoice in the love of our God whose justice is unflinching, whose will is benevolent—and whose mercy endures forever.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.