Jesus, Hidden King
Sunday, 22nd November is the festival of ‘Christ the King‘ in the Church’s calendar. It is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year and the onset of the penitential season of Advent. As such, it is well placed to help us review our lives afresh and to help us prepare to make good use of the new year to come.
The judgement scene from Matthew’s Gospel reading (Matt. 25. 31-end) makes for a puzzling read. Scholars have debated its meaning for 1,700 years and still can’t agree. Is the depiction of the Last Judgement a story or a description? What shocks us is that the basis of judgement is quite simply how we respond to the poor and those in need. That seems at odds with the teaching of Paul and of Jesus in the parables, where judgement goes in favour of those who acknowledge their culpability, plead the death of Jesus and trust in the gift of faith.
Now in Matthew’s Gospel the goalposts seem to have changed and there is uncertainty as to the basis of the final judgement in front of us. However we read the story, there is no doubt it identifies Jesus with people. Jesus is King, we declare, but what king is hidden, incognito, in his poor and needy people?
Today we expect high visibility, accessibility, immediate action and responsiveness from those we put in authority. We infer absence from those who are not grabbing the headlines, occupying the limelight. But our King, though hidden, is present. Jesus Christ is not only at the right hand of God. He comes to us again and again in the flesh of individual women, men and children, in their marginalisation, vulnerability, need and today amidst the crisis of the current pandemic. He is really present in daily life by means of the men and women who need our succour. If they are Christ’s ambassadors, how can we feel superior and resentful of their presence or current situation? The eyes of the world may see them as the needy who crave help, but we are to see in them the Lord Jesus Christ and their right to be served as we would serve an earthly king. There, but for the grace of God, go us all.
In this time of great need, this time of uncertainty, when people of all ages and diverse backgrounds are struggling physically, mentally, spiritually, financially and directly because of the virus, please remember that amidst the seeming lack of clarity regarding what the Last Judgement is all about, one thing is exceptionally clear: The needy make Christ visible.
Heroic action isn’t being asked for. Even a phone call, a kind message, a smile, a cup of water or a discarded item of clothing is sufficient for us to be serving the world’s unknown King. Although seemingly hidden, we declare that Christ is King every time we carry out an act of love and generosity; show empathy and offer care and support. We know that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, because its king, Jesus, has begun his reign on earth and acts with and in his needy people.
And so, as the glorious season of Advent approaches, we learn again what it means for us to wait and work and pray. We look forward to Christ’s just and gentle rule, and know that we must offer ourselves up to the service of those in need, so as to truly enthrone him in our lives.
With every blessing,