The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 22, 2020

We have reached the end of the Church year. Today is the 34th and final Sunday of the year. And, as usual, we celebrate today the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King. What is the significance or meaning of Jesus' kingship for us? Kingship today seems antiquated, especially in democratic societies where everyone is supposed to be treated equal and free. Today, there are kings and queens still in our world, but they are rarely as effective as were rulers or kings of the ancient world.  

In the ancient world kingdoms and peoples flourished or suffered, depending on the qualities of their kings.  Three ‘kingly’ qualities especially underlined in Israel were wisdom, power and holiness (or ‘being in favor with the God’).  Palestine had 41 kings, coming after Saul, David and Solomon.  Of these 41, the Old Testament judged only two to be ‘best’; the rest had serious flaws, with some egregiously sinful.  Thus, Israel’s experience of kingship was almost totally unpleasant; yet, it was on these kings that the fruitfulness and happiness of Israel’s people depended.  By Jesus’ time two thoughts were uppermost in the religious mind of Israel: 1. God’s love is so vibrant and faithful that, despite Israelite failures, He must provide a king who would succeed, an ‘ideal’ king; 2. a reading of the prophets suggests that indeed it was in this time of Jesus that this great, longed-for king would come.  

In today’s gospel, two images are invoked by Jesus.  The Son of Man is considered as a shepherd separating sheep from goats.  Jews so invested in agriculture and husbandry would be at home with this way of describing God as Israel’s trustworthy and loving Shepherd, and Jesus, who called himself the Good Shepherd.  Jesus also introduces, as the story progresses, the title ‘king’, another name which reinforces the supreme authority which characterizes the Son of Man.  Again, Israelites, so used to kingship as part of their social and political life, understand very well this claim to rule over all nations; indeed, God Himself had claimed this right of royalty so often in the Psalms.

Jesus imagines a dialogue between the Son of Man, the king, and the subjects now to be judged or evaluated.  His first words are to ‘the blessed of my Father’, a term which began with the Sermon on the Mount in the famous beatitudes, and generally is applied to those who ‘do my Father’s will’.  They are not called ‘obedient’, but ‘blessed’, which raises in Matthew’s audience immediate praise for one, anyone, who is among the obedient: he is ‘blessed’.  As with the beatitudes of Matthew 6, so too here one learns specifically why one deserves to be called ‘blessed’: here one is blessed because he is about to inherit the kingdom God had for so long prepared for him. The fear of terrifying judgment turns into a sense of great joy as one begins his eternal happiness.

The dialogue changes as the king addresses the condemned; condemnation is for those who do not do the kinds of loving acts as do the just.  These, too, should understand that their denying love for the needy is denying love for Jesus. The condemned are said to be taken off to eternal punishment.  Assumed then is the teaching that, after the end of the ages, there is no more possibility of repentance and salvation; loss is eternal.  Unlike elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus does not explain what eternal punishment is.  As with all things in the afterlife, one is left only to imagine what the love of God has in store for the just.  

The kingship of Christ is one of service, redemption and love its glory cannot be gain without first going through the cross. Like the good criminal who recognized his sins and in so doing recognized the kingship of Christ, we must follow his example and desire the kingdom that is to come in its fullness. The kingdom we should look for and what the church prays for is beautifully described in today’s preface: 

An eternal and universal Kingdom:

a kingdom of truth and life,

a kingdom of holiness and grace,

a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

May God’s kingdom come on earth and may we be found waiting and watching ready for his advent. 



For comments and suggestions: Sacred Heart Catholic Church Web Team
Updated: November 22, 2020

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