On this last Sunday of the liturgical year we look forward to the second coming of Jesus when he will be fully established as king over all the earth.
The reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians outlines the history of salvation from the resurrection of Jesus to the end of the world. “Christ has been raised from the dead.” When he comes again, everyone else who has died will also come to life again. Then comes the end. Having “destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power,” and thus having become king over all, Jesus will hand over the kingdom to God the Father.
Between Jesus’ resurrection and his second coming, God is in the process of putting all Jesus’ enemies under his feet, i.e., making his kingship complete. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. When Jesus’ kingship is absolute, Jesus will return, the dead will rise and God’s design for the human race will be consummated.
The readings from the book of the prophet Ezekiel and the gospel of Matthew speak of kingship using the image of a shepherd’s care for sheep. In the reading from Ezekiel God promises to tend his sheep himself; he himself will be their king. As a shepherd God will gather his sheep, pasture them, and heal their sicknesses. But God will also judge between the members of the flock.
In the reading from Matthew Jesus describes the fulfillment of this promise. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, i. e., when Jesus comes again as king of the world, he will gather all the nations as a shepherd gathers his flock. Then the Son of Man will separate the nations into sheep and goats. The sheep he will invite into “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” He will invite them because he was hungry and they gave him to drink, thirsty and they gave him to drink, etc. The goats he will consign to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This is because he was hungry and they gave him no food, etc.
Both groups wonder when they have treated the Son of Man in this way, either feeding or not feeding him, etc. Neither group is aware of having done so. But the Son of Man explains that in feeding or not feeding his “least brothers” or “least ones,” they have fed or not fed him.
This means that even before it is clear to all that Jesus is king, at his second coming, he really is king in a hidden way. Though many may not recognize it, one’s relationship to Jesus is the crucial element in human life. Jesus is not manifestly king so that we can easily be his subjects; he is not even obviously present to us. Nevertheless, he is in our midst. He is present in the “least ones,” i.e., probably his followers. The way we treat the followers of Jesus is the way we treat Jesus himself. This and the consequences of it will be clear when Jesus comes again.
© Terrance Callan