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Gospel Encouragement – Solemnity of Christ the King

Dear sisters and brothers,

This weekend we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King, and the readings present us with three different perspectives on what his kingship looks like: the shepherd, the victor and the judge.  We’re probably all quite comfortable with the first of those, but possibly challenged by the second two.  However, we have to remember that the way that Jesus expresses these roles is very different to the way in which we humans do.  As God made man, they speak of Jesus’ wisdom, his courage and his justice respectively.

His is the wisdom of the shepherd, who, in Israel, must find suitable pasture for his flock, in a country that is arid and dry.  I remember having the privilege of being in Israel and witnessing, from a hillside outside Bethlehem, a shepherd leading his flock – who were all in V-shape behind him – across barren land to find grass for them to eat.  They trusted him completely to find the food that they needed.  His wisdom also protected them against the wolves that sought to kill them, and he even took extreme measures to provide this protection.  An insight that I was given recently was that, when we see the image of ‘the Good Shepherd’ carrying the sheep around his neck, that image reflects the fact that the shepherds of Israel would break the legs of any sheep that habitually strayed, carrying it himself, so that it didn’t fall prey to the wolves who would happily devour it in its stupidity.

Jesus also has the courage of the victor, and in this I’m struck powerfully by our second reading, where we read that:

“… he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death…” (1 Cor. 15: 25-26)

With courage Jesus chose to die on the Cross that death would be defeated.  His death and subsequent Resurrection robbed death of its power, the power to terrify and to undermine the joy of being alive, the wonder of living to the full the life that God created us for.  Christ was the victor over Satan’s grand scheme to rob us of any hope, and Jesus continues to be the victor over Satan’s smaller schemes of seeking to undermine each of us individually, personally.  Every time that we remember the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, or recognise the hope that Jesus has won for us, or say no to sin or repent of that sinfulness – or the 1001 and one other ways that we can respond to God’s love revealed most fully on the Cross – we are choosing to live life to the full in the here and now, and choosing to follow Jesus through death into the Resurrection.  Death is defeated each and every day in our openness to and cooperation with the Holy Spirit as he makes the victory of the Cross real to us.

And finally, Jesus is the epitome of justice.  That word, in its origins, meant to restore someone to the right path.  Jesus, in his role as the perfect judge, proclaiming true judgement from the Cross, restores each of us to the right path.  On the Cross he said to all humanity: “Father, forgive them, for they not what they do”.  He embodies what the psalmist wrote: “mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced” (Ps. 85: 10).  As he judges, he shows us his mercy, he is faithful in his love for us, he sets us upon the right path and he bestows upon us his peace.  How does he do this?  Once again, it is through the courage of the Cross.  He takes on board our sin, our shame, whatever punishment should be ours, even unto death.  This is the justice of God made man.  We may not have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited those who were sick and in prison – note that Jesus lists these things three times, so he’s emphasising how important each of them are – or the numerous other ways that we fail to live out the love that God has called us to, but from his throne of judgement, the Cross, he says that we are forgiven, that today we will be with him in paradise, as he takes our punishment upon himself.  This is the justice that he shows us.

So as we celebrate this solemnity – which draws the Church’s year to a close – let’s rejoice in the freedom from the fear of death that Jesus has won for us, in his wisdom, his courage and his justice, and let’s claim this freedom each and every day of our lives through our faith and through our openness to continue to grow in that faith.

With every blessing,

Simon