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A Scripture Reflection for the SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING

by Stephen Bevans, SVD | November 26, 2017


November 26, 2017


Readings: Ez 34: 11-12, 15-17, Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6, 1 Cor 15: 20-26, 28, Mt 25:31-46




The official name for this feast, always celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” “Our Lord,” the title proclaims, is not just “Our Lord.” Jesus the Christ—God’s “anointed one,” Messiah—is the “King of the Universe,” the Shepherd of all peoples, the healer of the entire creation. It’s this absolute universality that our readings proclaim, particularly in two places.


The first place is in the gospel reading. Jesus’ parable is not just about the judgment of Christians. It is about the judgment of all humankind. “When the Son of Man comes … all the nations will be assembled before him” (my emphasis). Like a wise shepherd, echoing the last line of the first reading from Ezekiel, he will separate the sheep from the goats, and will pronounce judgment. On all peoples.


Notice, though, the criteria for this judgment. They are not doctrinal criteria—whether persons believed in this or that doctrine, like Jesus’s divinity, or the Trinity, or transubstantiation. They are not even personal ethical criteria, like cohabitation before marriage or homosexuality. They are the more universal criteria of social ethics, whether one has treated another person as a person, and not as an object to be used or ignored. Its when people do this—feed the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, try to heal or cheer the sick, practice hospitality even to strangers—that they touch the truth of Jesus’ identity, and submit to his Kingship. “Whatever you did for the least brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.” Jesus’ Kingship is not a demand to pay homage to him. It is not a demand to pay homage to a particular religious group. It is a demand to pay homage to the people we meet everyday, especially the ones that make us uncomfortable. When we pay attention to them, Pope Francis says, we “touch the suffering flesh of Christ,” whether people know it or not. His is a truly universal Kingship.


The second place in the readings where we see this universality is in the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians. Universal Kingship is not just the shepherding of women and men, it is about the shepherding of all creation, bringing all things together, healing all things, preparing for that moment when “God may be all in all.” Yes, the sheep in the first reading are the people of Israel. But it may not be too far-fetched to think of them also as real sheep that God brings to rest, seeks out, brings back into the fold, binds up their wounds, and heals them. “Everything,” Paul writes, will be subjected to him—he will heal all things. Acknowledging Christ’s Kingship is acknowledging our need to care for our “common home,” the world, the universe in which we live together with all creatures—human, sensate, living, inanimate. Christ is King of every atom, every quark!


When the former slave Sojourner Truth underwent her conversion, she wrote that her spontaneous exclamation at that moment was “O God, I didn’t know you were so big!” This is the truth of Jesus’s universal Kingship. It is not about a God who is a member of the “doctrinal police” or “liturgical police,” making sure that people say the right words or believe the right things. It is not about a God who is a kind of Santa Claus that “knows when you are sleeping,” and “knows when you’re awake.” Jesus’ Kingship is about calling us and all of creation to wholeness and fullness. We do that when we treat existence as the mystery it is, with every creature filled with the presence of God.


The ministry to which we are called in the church is to help people realize and recognize this amazing truth. They may be people themselves inside the church, or they may be people of other faiths or no faith at all. As ministers we serve Christ the universal King. We witness to more than right language or right behavior. We witness to a man who showed us who God is, not by a life of flagrant power, but one of personal care for every creature. This is why he is universal King, and why submission to his rule is so important. Actually, it is not submission at all. It is recognizing in him the life-giving mystery of all things.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Books written by Steve Bevans

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