November 22, 2020 – St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Church in Naples, FL
Ezekiel 34, 11-12. 15-17 + 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28 + Matthew 25:31-46
This is the final parable in Matthew’s Gospel, and it may be the most challenging of them all. It not only challenges our image of Christ and his identity, it challenges our identity as well. The image of Christ as “King” that artists have put before us is in stark contrast to the image of Christ as King proposed for us in the Gospel. What artists often give us is a man crowned with gold and jewels, wrapped in luxurious robes, seated on a thrown staring at us with blank, empty eyes. What the Gospel gives us is a tortured and innocent man hanging on cross with crown of thorns. The only jewels are the drops of his blood. The robes are gone. He is stripped of everything, his clothing, his dignity, his friends, and life itself. A sign above his head is all that declares him a King. When it comes to his identity, it would seem from the Gospels that a Shepherd was his chosen identity probably because of our scriptures constantly connect Jesus and King David, the shepherd boy who becomes the great King of Israel. When Pilot presents Christ as King, the image of Christ begins to match his identity and lead us deeper into the wonderful truth of the Incarnation.
When we finally allow this Gospel to challenge our identity, we can’t get away with comfortable images given to us by artists down through the ages. One look at the characters of this Gospel ought to shake us enough to reflect on our own identity as would-be citizens of the Kingdom of God. If we truly are, then we must no longer simply identify as “American”, “Italian”, “Hispanic”, “Democrat”, “Republican”, or “Independent.” By our Baptism, we have been claimed by and for Christ, and our only and true home is in the Reign of Christ. That home surpasses all boundaries, ethnicities, politics, and time itself. When we allow our allegiance or loyalty to anything that over-rides our loyalty and allegiance to Christ, we’re done for.
This weekend’s celebration reminds us of two things. The Kingdom of God is not something yet to come. We live it now by our identity with the thorn crowned king when we care for the poor, the hungry, and those on the margins of our society. We are also reminded to prepare to face God’s judgment. Reviewing how we have observed the “thou shalt not” commandments will get us nowhere. How closely we have kept the rules will probably not figure into the final exam. The ones Jesus, the King, will choose will be those who are most like him and have remained in solidarity with the one who eats with sinners, tax collectors, and those society has refused to accept.
One contemporary artist has given us an icon of Jesus more inspired by this Gospel than any other, and much truer to the real identity of Jesus. Called, “Christ of the Breadlines”. It is a black and white etching of a slightly stooped, racially indistinct Christ. The only thing that sets him apart from the women and men with whom he waits in that food line is how his presence radiates out to them. Thinking of Christ as the utmost expression of magnificent things that matter is risky when he has taught us to seek God’s self-revelation at the lowest end of power and prestige. Jesus did not come to scare us into charity, but to help us to fall in love with and widen our outstretched arms to embrace him by embracing everyone with mercy and compassion while setting us on fire and stirring our hunger for justice which will finally make him the King of Peace who came not to be served, but to serve.