Today is a special day in the Church’s calendar. It is the feast day of Christ the King. As you may be able to work out from the name, it is a day where we remember the kingship of Christ. We remember that Jesus has dominion over all creatures; that he has supreme and absolute authority over all things and therefore he has supreme and absolute authority over all of us. On the feast of Christ the King we remember that the world we live in is his realm and all our lives play-out under his jurisdiction.
So Christ the King is a day where we remember that Jesus is in charge of everything.
But it also has a secondary significance. Some of you may have noticed that we are getting closer to Christmas. And before we get to Christmas, we will begin Advent. The reason Christ the King is significant at this time of the year is because of what Advent means. The word Advent itself comes from the Latin adventus which means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The coming or arrival of who you may ask? ‘Of Jesus’ is the answer, but not only of his first arrival as a baby in a manger. Advent is also the time where we look to Christ’ second coming as King as he metes out his final judgment of the earth. Just as we will remember the prophecies of scripture were fulfilled when Christ was born 2000 years ago, so we remember the prophecies of scripture that are yet to be fulfilled: the ones that promise that Christ will come again to judge the earth.
It is because of this focus on the second coming of Christ that we have Matthew 28 as our gospel reading. It is why we have a portion of Scripture that focuses on the authority and judgement of Christ. So let’s look at those two things, starting with the authority of Christ.
In verse 31 we are introduced to the image of the Son of Man (a phrase in the Gospels that comes to signify Jesus). And the Son of Man is sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. This is an image that is also found in the 7th chapter of the Book of Daniel. In Daniel, the author is stronger in his description of the one who sits on the throne. The person on the throne is referred to as the Ancient of Days which is a name for God. This means that Jesus in Matthew also regards himself as God.
So in our opening scene we have Jesus sitting on the throne as God. And in the next verse we see the authority of Christ reinforced by the gathering of all the nations before him as he separates them into two groups.
So far we have been given a pretty emphatic description of Jesus’ authority. He sits on a throne like a monarch and every single person on earth is brought before him as he separates them into two groups. We cannot but conclude that Jesus is indeed God and King of all the earth.
Next comes the judgment. The people before Jesus are separated into two groups depending on how they regarded what Christ calls ‘these my brothers.’ Jesus says in verse 40 ‘as you did to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.’ So the criteria on which every person will be judged is on how they treated Jesus as he is manifested in certain people. The next question then is who are these people? And why does Jesus make blessings and inheritance of the kingdom dependant on how we treat him in them?
So to whom does ‘these my brothers’ refer? First of all, it almost goes without saying that this is a gender inclusive term that includes women as well. Secondly it seems that, based on who Jesus calls his brothers elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ brothers are his disciples. Remember chapter 12:48-49 Jesus says that his mother, brothers and sisters are whoever does the will of his Father in heaven and in 23:8 he says that his disciples are to think of themselves as all brothers, before telling those who saw his resurrection in 28:10 to go and tell his brothers (that is: the disciples) the news.
Now why does Jesus make blessings and inheritance dependent on how we treat his disciples? The first and most important answer is because Jesus identifies himself with his disciples. This is a staggering mystery that is threaded all through the New Testament. It is true that in a profound sense that those who follow Jesus are united with him very closely. As we will see in the Liturgy of the Sacrament later:
We break this bread
to share in the body of Christ.
Though we are many, we are one body,
because we all share in the one bread.
Through faith in Jesus we share in the body of Christ and are all made one body.
Therefore, the criteria on which we will be judged will be on how we treated Jesus. But that is not something that is abstract and spiritual, it is grounded in the earthy mundane encounters we have with Christ’s presence in those who follow him.
The second reason Jesus makes blessings and inheritance dependent on how we treat his disciples is because Jesus’ disciples, by definition, are people who have been commanded to tell others the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the hope it brings us all of life after death. If someone is truly a follower of Jesus then they will share this hope. Therefore, how people treat Jesus’ disciples is also an indication of how they have responded to the gospel.
So there we are, on this day where we observe the festival of Christ the King, we are drawn to the truth that Jesus rules over all creation with authority and it is our reaction to him as King that will determine our fate. And this is not just an intellectual, spiritual action. It is the earthy, messy, mundane and tangible series of actions we bring before Jesus’ presence in every follower of his that we meet.
So in this time of lockdown I ask you these two questions: firstly do you know you are one of the brothers Jesus describes in our passage? And secondly, how are you regarding Christ the King in each of his followers? I leave the answers up to you and pray that you will know the presence of Jesus within you now and that he will direct your steps in the days to come.
In his most blessed name I pray. Amen.