Christ the King is Lord of All

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Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

As we celebrate today the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we would do well to consider what it meant in the Old Testament for Israel to have a king, as well as what this means for the New Testament, in which the hopes of the Old Testament are fulfilled.

In the Scriptures, we can see a conflicted tradition about kingship – that is, about who is really ought to be considered the king. On the one hand, Israel affirmed that only the LORD could be the true king of Israel. On the other hand, the LORD allows Israel to have its visible, human king. Each of these positions about kingship bears pondering.

It is difficult to know when, precisely, Israel first began to speak of God as “King.” The LORD is barely spoken of as “king” in the Pentateuch; only just before the end of Deuteronomy (ch. 32), just before the people Israel enter into the land promised to them, is such an expression used of the LORD. Still, it is made clear that the LORD is the ruler of the people Israel: “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).

Yet once they reached the Promised Land, in the period of Judges, Israel asked for a king: The Israelites…said to Gideon, “Rule over us – you, your son, and your son's son – for you rescued us from the power of Midian.” But Gideon answered them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. The LORD must rule over you” (Judges 8:22-23). The LORD had predicted that they would make such a request: “When you have come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you… should you then decide to have a king over you… you shall set that man over you as your king whom the LORD, your God, chooses” (Judges 8:22-23).

While this request was not heeded for a number of generations, the first Book of Samuel recounts the eventual emergence of Israel as a kingdom – that is, a people with a human king. All the elders of Israel came to the prophet Samuel to ask him to appoint a king over them, “as other nations have.” Samuel was displeased at this, but the LORD told him, “It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.” Samuel warned the people of the rights of the king: He would take their sons for his armies, their daughters as cooks and bakers, and the best of their produce in taxes. Yet they insisted on having a king to rule them and to lead them in warfare. So Samuel anointed Saul as king. (1 Samuel 8). But Saul displeased the LORD, so Samuel anointed another king, David. He would be the paradigm for kingship in Israel.

Yet the Scriptures attest to an ambiguity in David’s conduct – a mixed bag of deeds and misdeeds, lust and loyalty, betrayal and bravery. His very person reflects Israel’s own mixed feelings with regard for the kingship. They want to believe in the LORD as their king, yet they want a king they can see, from whom their enemies will flee.

After David, the kingdom of Israel showed its own weaknesses as an institution. Solomon, wise though he was, made foreign alliances in order to keep the kingdom together; then the kingdom split in two, with each kingdom being beset by its own trials: some good kings, but mostly wicked ones, with the people being faithful but often unfaithful.

Israel’s desire for a human king, and the institution that was Israel’s kingdom, in both their successes and their failures, testify to a very human need. Yet there is no fitting ruler over Israel except for the LORD. The repeated failures of Israel’s human kings indicate this indirectly. In the face of such failures, Ezekiel the Prophet, in our reading today, gives voice to the hopes of Israel, that God himself would be their leader: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep,” says the Lord God; “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” But Israel yearns not only to believe in the reign of God, but also to see it. There is a human need for God’s rule to be enfleshed, to be seen, heard, and felt as real in this world. Israel’s demand for a king shows that God’s rule must truly be alive among us. Yet all the human rulers that Israel had, even though duly delegated by the LORD himself, were disappointments. They could not do what only God can do. As merely human, they would be limited in intellect and power, and fragile in will, at best – and sometimes downright corrupt. A merely human agent would not be enough for them, or for us.

This is why the Word became Flesh. Christ means Messiah, the anointed One, the One who came to rule over all. Only God can save us; yet if we are to be saved, it must be by One who comes to dwell among us, assuming our humanity, that we may share his Divinity.

The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us. He is the One who shared in blood and flesh, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” His glory will be the manifestation of what he has merited for us, showing us and the whole world, plainly, that Jesus Christ is Lord, the King. True, each of us is to be judged individually, in our souls, at our death. But there is to be a final, general judgment at the end, so that (1) all our deeds and all their effects may be shown plainly to all, and so that (2) the work of God in Christ may be known clearly by all, so that God may be all in all. Now, what is seen plainly does not require an act of faith. In this sense, seeing is not just believing; seeing is knowing.

Yet, until then, the kingdom that Christ has established is not one that overpowers us. It is the Word that was made flesh. That is, a Word spoken to us. God the Father speaks to us this Word, his Son. We are to hear this Word, and obey it, as Jesus obeyed his Father even to the Cross. We are to hear the word of God and keep it; that is, we are to understand it and, by God’s gentle grace, we are to follow its persuasive power. If God had simply wanted to subject us to himself, he could have done that. But he has come to draw us to himself, so that, by choice, we may have faith in him; in this way, we may merit, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to share his life. Our Lord allows us to hear his invitation and (with his help) to understand what he commands and to respond in obedient love.

Thus, it is not a blind obedience that we are to give. We must not be obedient to just any command, but to the Truth. We can see all too well what happens when a radical obedience is offered to a false god. Those who kill the innocent in the name of their god are not serving the almighty. They have given their souls to another power, the power that devours the arrogant.

Still, we are to give our whole lives in obedience to our King. One of the principal heresies of our age is to believe that God requires only a portion of our lives: the “religious” part. There is certainly a distinction between the sacred and the secular, between Church and state – this is a distinction well-recognized by the Church. But such a distinction must not suggest to us believers that the affairs of the world are of no interest to Christ or his Church. Family, friends, school, recreation, agriculture, business, environment – all things are to be put at the feet of Christ. No other feast better demonstrates that Christ is to reign over all aspects of our lives – not merely over our heads, not merely over our hearts, not merely over our Sundays, not merely over our acts of worship, but over our whole lives. Giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing and housing those in need, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick – these are all ways in which we recognize the reign of Christ and testify to that reign in the world.

We have a few young men with us this weekend who are considering whether the Dominican Order is the way in which God has called them to recognize his reign over their lives. Their question is not whether Christ is their King. All Christians, in every state of life, are to accept Christ as their King – over their whole lives. But one may question how to do this. The religious life offers a more visible dedication of one’s heart, soul, mind and strength to Christ the Lord as King. What will be clear to all at the coming of Christ, that Jesus Christ is Lord and King of all, is precisely what religious life makes more visible now on earth, when the eyes of faith are still required to see it. This is the very point of religious life: to be a sign, an eschatological sign. That is, the religious life makes more visible today what at the coming of Christ at the end will become fully visible to all: that Jesus Christ is Lord and King. The religious life eloquently speaks the Word of God aloud, so that more and more people may hear the Word of God and keep it, obeying Christ as King.

By the grace of Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar that we are about to receive, let us rededicate our whole lives to our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us consider again how we can, with his help, offer our whole lives to Him: our relationships with family and friends, our work, our rest, our recreation – our whole lives, that God may be all in all. Amen.

--by Fr. Bryan Kromholtz, O.P.
November 23, 2014

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