Royalty seems to be an endless source of fascination for many people. They are a different kind of celebrity. Maybe it’s the power, real or largely ceremonial. Maybe it’s the wealth and lavish lifestyles. Maybe it’s the pomp and pageantry. Maybe it’s the glittering robes and crowns.
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ, the King. Though the images we use are often of a king with all the usual trappings (throne, crown, magnificent robes), the Gospels actually present a different image to us – a naked, tortured, man, nailed to a cross, wearing a crown of thorns.
In the Old Testament scripture, God comes among his people not as a warrior-king, with a frightening display of military power or with thunderbolts in his hands, but as a shepherd-king: feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, holding them tenderly and leading the mother ewes to rest. God’s coming liberates and frees his people through tenderness and forgiveness.
Jesus’ whole life was about doing good for people and serving them, especially the poor. We get a stark reminder of his mission, and ours, in the Gospel.
In the Gospel Matthew paints a picture of the glorious arrival of the King and the assembly of all the nations of people who are then separated into two groups, sheep and goats.
Judgement is then pronounced - not on the basis of physical beauty, wealth, power, status or even religious practice. What determines who will inherit the eternal life of the Kingdom are the works of service done to fellow human beings in need: the hungry, the thirty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is no mention in the list of religious duties like prayer, liturgical worship, fasting, giving tithes or indeed any identifiably religious practice.
Very likely these things are presumed to be present in all the assembled people. But, the difference between the two groups is how they responded to fellow human beings in need.
Read the Gospel reflection for this Sunday.
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