26 November 2017

Feast or Fire? Who's Your King?

Christ the King (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

What do you think of when you hear the word “authority”? Not so long ago here in the U.S. that word would have brought up images of security, certainty, limits, comfort. Scientists in lab coats solving problems. Military personnel defending the nation against our enemies. Police officers keeping the peace. Mothers and fathers raising families. And Catholic priests and religious teaching the apostolic faith. Pick another point in human history and “authority” might conjure images of the National Guard fighting rioters; overcrowded ration stations; or the church burning heretics. These days, “authority” seems to be something of a dirty word. Our national and cultural establishments have surrendered most of their moral authority to secularism's “long march through the institutions.” It is no longer entirely clear to many of us who we are, why we are, or where we are going. And waiting on the arrival of some person or event to give us direction is leading us to a national emotional breakdown. The solemnity of Christ the King is celebrated this morning in order to remind us that when the authority of the world betrays us, when it fails, as it inevitably does, Christ our King never has and never will.

We can imagine the Christ the King in hundreds of ways. Glorious Ruler. Wise Leader. The Great God-Man. All would probably capture some aspect of his sovereignty and might. Matthew shows us what Christ the King looks like on the Last Day. The Just Judge. The Righteous Measure of Souls. Taking into his view the length and breadth of our lives in his service, the Just Judge weighs our deeds against our misdeeds, our generosity against our stinginess. He weighs the degree to which we have absorbed his love and shared it with our brothers and sisters through concrete acts of charity. He tests how well we have forgiven; how well we have hoped; how often we have depended on his gifts; and how sincerely we have submitted to his authority as our King. Those who stand transparent before him, the ones through whom he can see his own face, he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For those souls muddied by stinginess, hatred, self-righteousness, and greed, he will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is the feast or the fire.

The sharp clarity of this parable is shocking. There's no wiggle-room here. No “but what he really means is” interpretation. If Jesus had wanted to remain somewhat obscure in this teaching he could've done so. . .easily. He's done it before. But what we have here is a stark, black and white, Yes/No choice. (I don't think we modern, American Catholics are used to this sort of thing!) Our choice is simple: serve Christ the King by serving the least of his, or don't. The result of each choice is laid out for us as plainly as they can be. This is my choice. Your choice. How you and I are judged on the Last Day is up to you and me. Am I a sheep or a goat? An obedient servant of Christ? Or a self-serving sinner? Lest you think this whole parable about guilting you into being good boys and girls, keep in mind – there's nothing hidden here. Christ the Just Judge is laying out before us what Judgment Day will entail. There's no guess work, no gotcha's, no “if I had only known's.” With his authority as our Redeemer, our King, Jesus tells us – “Serve me by serving the least of mine.” 
How do we serve the least among us? Start with Christ; that is, from the root of your service make Christ the top, bottom, and center of your work. Your motive is Christ. Your inspiration is Christ. Your strength and resilience is Christ. Above all, your final goal, your end is Christ. Good works are good works. BUT good works done for the sake of Christ and his ministry are good works with everlasting effects. Don't feed the hungry b/c they hungry. Feed them b/c Christ in them is hungry. Don't visit the sick b/c they are sick. Visit them b/c Christ in them is sick. IOW, treat the hungry, the naked, sick, the imprisoned as if Christ himself is hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Gov't agencies, secular relief services, non-profits can feed, clothe, and visit those in need. But only Christ can minister to Christ. And on the Last Day you want Christ the Just Judge to look at you and see himself. You served him and in doing so perfected the Father's love in you.


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