Today we celebrate Christ the King. And on this last Sunday of the Church year we are given a vision of the last day, the day of judgment, as the separation of the sheep and the goats.
In this vision, the standard by which the they will be separated isn’t whether they can say the creeds without reservation or have been baptized or go to church. “Truly I tell you, just as you did to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
It’s very concrete: Feed the hungry. Offer something to drink to the thirsty. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Care for those who are sick. Visit those in prison.
And not only the hungry and thirsty who are hungry and thirsty through no fault of their own, or who approach politely and ask for help, but the hungry and thirsty period, even if they haven’t worked for it and even if they are in our faces.
Not only the strangers with whom we are comfortable, who would make nice additions to our parish and our lives because they like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like, but even the strangers who make us comfortable and might turn our lives upside down.
Not only the naked who can’t find a job because the economy is bad, but otherwise would and could work, but even it they just won’t get a job.
Not only those who are sick, but who always ate the right things and didn’t smoke or drink, but also the sick who lived unhealthy lives.
Not only those who are in prison unjustly, but even those who are completely guilty.
Just the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison with no qualifiers.
Do all that and inherit the Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.
It’s not a detailed program, and it raises all kinds of questions: how much feeding; how much visiting; even about things like where we should live (because if we live in certain places we can mostly avoid the hungry and thirsty and naked altogether), but it’s still a standard. And we can always ask ourselves, how might we (each of us, as the Church, and beyond) live more like sheep than goats?
It’s a concrete standard that draws us right to it.
But I wonder if to get right to that concrete standard we rush past things like this from today’s gospel:
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
Or things like this from Ephesians:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The KING stuff, in other words.
And if we DO rush past things like this, I wonder what we ultimately lose even in the concrete standard we rushed to get to.
Years ago, during a job search, I was asked in an interview, “Are you a liberal or a conservative?” At that time that question was code for, “Where do you stand on sexuality issues?”
Which made me cranky. If you want me to answer the real question directly, respect me enough to ask the real question directly.
But my real issue was deeper than that, and, since I’m at least part smart-alec, when they asked me, “Are you a liberal or a conservative?” I answered, “I think asking a Christian whether he is a liberal or conservative is like asking someone who’s Jewish whether she’s a protestant or a catholic.”
Confused looks all around.
And I said, “As a Christian, liberal and conservative are two denominations of a religion to which I do not belong.”
My point was that Christianity doesn’t fit neatly into a another set of categories like liberal or conservative or America or democracy or capitalism or socialism.
As my undergrad theology professor used to say, Jesus Christ isn’t Mr. and Mrs. Christ’s son. Christ isn’t a name. It’s a title. It’s the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anointed one,” and in Judaism, most of the time, that means King. Jesus Christ means King Jesus. And the very first creed of the Church was Jesus is Lord. Which is as political as it sounds.
· to call Jesus the Christ, the King, is to say, “Herod is not”;
· to say “Jesus is Lord” is to say “Caesar is not”;
· and to say Jesus is King or Lord is to say, “other kings, or presidents, or states of whatever kind, or corporate or other powers aren’t.”
Jesus isn’t a king of human making. And this is really the point:
He is (as Jesus in Matthew says) the Son of Man who sits on his throne in glory, surrounded by angels, judging the nations.
He is (as Paul says in Ephesians) the King seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come, with all things placed under his feet and head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So, if Jesus isn’t a king of human making, and is, in fact, above all kings and rulers, then this standard that he gives us, the standard by which we and the nations will be judged, is not a standard of human making, either.
This standard: feeding the hungry and thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and those in prison, aren’t nice things some nice people have decided to do. They are an expression of what’s at the center of reality, the center of God’s Creation, coming even from within God’s own being. The God who has claimed the least as family, and so identified with them that
· we love and serve Christ the King in these others, or we don’t love or serve him at all;
· he took flesh as one of them and lived among them in the person of Jesus, and only in that way reigns as King,
· that what we do to them we do to the King and God and judge of all Creation.