Queen Elizabeth II of England has reigned as that country’s monarch for 65 years now. She is a beloved figure in all of Great Britain and in many parts of the world. The Queen has become sort of a “grandmother” on the world stage, even as her role is rather limited. In fact, the practical and official leader of the United Kingdom is actually the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who was elected about two years ago. Not everyone there likes Mr. Johnson; but they almost universally love the Queen.
Not that democracy is a bad thing; but today, more often, the result of an election is disenchantment (at best!) on the part of those whose candidate didn’t make it, feelings of superiority or gloating for those whose candidate won, and a strong feeling of disunity among a nation. A good elected leader seeks to rebuild that unity. However, there has to be something around which to build that unity. Do we find ourselves getting angry at a “Trump” or “Biden” bumper sticker, only to miss the Rosary hanging from our fellow motorists’ mirrors – or our own? Unity requires focus.
This is the power of the solemnity that we celebrate today – at the unique point of the last Sunday of Ordinary Time: Christ the King. For Christians – regardless of our political leaders here on earth – Jesus is the sovereign Head of our lives. Like Queen Elizabeth, we look to Christ as the center of our identity, and we ought to be proud of that fact. This celebration is a reminder to us that no matter where or when we are, Christ is the King. We are united under Him and in Him.
This unity is more than just looking in the same direction or having the same images of Jesus on our walls at home. Instead, it is a complete way of being and thinking. We should be so connected to Jesus our King that we recognize Him everywhere. Christ’s words in the gospel today underscore this fact. We are meant to recognize Jesus in the hungry and the thirsty, in the stranger and the naked, in the ill and imprisoned – and we are meant to respond to Him there as well. In fact, when we do or don’t these actions are considered as done or not done for Christ Himself.
Therefore, having Jesus as our King means a transformation of our perspective. Rather than looking for those things that divide us from one another, we are to seek to see Christ – who enters those divisions and heals them. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. The prophet Ezekiel here reminds us that the role of the Shepherd is to maintain one flock, to gather them together, and to keep them safe.
We belong to that one flock; we belong to Jesus. We share with Him in the resurrection from the dead, and we are called to that same eternal destiny of blessedness and joy. However, we are first called to be united as members of His Kingdom here on earth. We can lose that if we lose sight of that unity; we can lose it if we lose sight of Him. Therefore, Jesus reminds us that we must recognize Him wherever and whenever we encounter Him – be it in familiar, comfortable faces, or in the “distressing disguises” that He most often wears.
Friends, if we are to be able to recognize Jesus in these least brothers and sisters of His, then we need to practice recognizing Him where He is. It can be no accident. As subjects of the Kingdom of Christ the King, we must make time to dwell on that presence of Christ in our midst. Yes, He is there in the homeless, the poor, the imprisoned, and the refugee; but He is beautifully present too in the Eucharist. We can only fully understand and appreciate this fact if we practice recognizing Him now.
St. John Chrysostom has some wise words here. Chrysostom lived and taught in the fourth century and is known for some of the wisest teachings in our faith. He once preached that we cannot adorn Christ’s churches with beautiful decorations while we neglect Christ in the poor outside the doors. He called his hearers back to a focus on Christ so that we see Him everywhere – and we respond to Him everywhere. Knowing Christ the King in this way, then, leads to a transformation of our hearts so that the world can be turned on its head – not through force or through human ingenuity, which often leads to more suffering, but through the power of God’s grace and of Jesus reigning in our hearts. Here’s what Chrysostom says about the renewal of the world through Christ our King:
"Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person’s gold and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the emperor to impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone? Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing and do much harm.
"Those who combined both cruel hearts and sharp minds would soon find ways of making themselves rich again. Worse still, the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold form the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift. Far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow. The only way to achieve true justice is to change people’s hearts first — and then they will joyfully share their wealth."
Having Jesus as our King is not about a military coup or a revolution; rather, it is about accepting Him as the Lord of our lives. Knowing that Christ is the King of my neighbor leads me to acknowledge that He is also my King, and that realization should lead us to recognize the holy unity between us – a unity that empowers us to accomplish together the transformative work of Christ in our world.