As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King it is interesting to note that the scriptures express the nature of his Kingship in terms that borrow as much from the pastoral language of the Good Shepherd as from the expected regal imagery of royal courts. We indeed hear that the Lord will be seated like a king “upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” Immediately afterward we read “he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt 25:31-32).
What follows is a powerful description of the standard by which Christ, our King and Shepherd, will judge us—something we should take to heart. The judgement will be conducted on the basis of how each Christian has responded to Christ present in and through others. We read: “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 clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:35-36).
Let us not think this is a saccharine vision of Christianity reduced to being “nice,” but rather a practical lens through which to view the authenticity of our faith—whether we are truly animated by the Spirit to love God and love our neighbor (and strangers) or whether our faith is superficial. I am reminded of the words of the First Letter of John: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
The Old Testament reading anticipates Jesus’ stark message not so much in specifying actions we are to take but in identifying experiences we can expect if we are faithful disciples of the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel announces, “I myself will pasture my sheep…The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal; but the sleek and the strong I will destroy” (Eze 34:15-16).
Being lost, strayed off-course, and wounded are experiences that every follower of the Lord encounters at some point in life. Standing firm in faith in Christ the King and the Good Shepherd we know that he will search, find, and heal us according to our need. The Psalmist affirms this in one of the most famous passages of the Psalter he sings: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose. Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul” (Ps 23:1-3).
Saint Paul, too, contributes to the picture of Christ as a righteous King, emphasizing that his judgement will encompass all: “just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,” and will be over all earthly powers: “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. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:22, 24-25).
Throughout life we take shelter in our faith in a God who leads us as both a gentle Shepherd and a just and gracious King. Let us remain faithful by responding with joy to Christ whom we encounter in all our brothers and sisters, that we may one day hear the words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.