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Christ the King: God’s criteria

Today’s readings: Ezekiel 34, 11-12.15-17; 1 Corinthians 15, 20-26.28; Matthew 25, 31-46.

Today’s gospel narrative of the judgement scene is a plea to examine our lives both as individuals and as a community. The parable of the sheep and the goats suggests God’s criteria for judgement, which evidently do not match the criteria we normally apply in religion.

The picture of the essence of religion familiar to most of us is linked to morality and afterlife: we must behave well because if we do we will be rewarded in heaven. If we don’t we will be punished in hell. But if we are honest enough with ourselves, do we really believe that religion is all about this?

The narrative of the judgement scene in today’s gospel transposes the relevance of religion to this side of the divide, to earthly life rather than to what will actually happen after death. The kingdom of Christ is an earthly business and it is here that we, as his disciples, are committed to make it happen. This comes out clearly today from the three Scripture texts.

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel, writing in the wake of the exilic experience of Israel, refers to a restored political order where the justice denied will now be reversed and the social reality restored. Ezekiel seeks to help people in exile receive the newness of God and act on the new possibilities available. Having taken to task the kings who had simply abused of their power and exploited the people, he now enunciates the new rule auguring that the ordering of social life will be humane and just.

In the second reading from Corinthians, St Paul writes that Christ “must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet”. This is not to be taken in the political sense as if Christ has adversaries to conquer. The ‘enemies’ Christ will put under his feet refer to manifest or occult powers in daily life that dominate us socially and individually, alienating us from the needs of the most needy, so eloquently listed in the gospel scene and with whom Christ identifies himself.

St Paul is referring to the turning upside down of the historical order through the resurrection. It is through the resurrection that Christ’s kingdom is established on earth. The last enemy to be destroyed is death but that comes only “having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power”. “Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ.”

This is the new order where the King will answer “insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”. The text here goes even beyond religion, placing so many virtuous people on the right hand of the Son of Man in the judgement scene who will reply to him: but we have never met you!

The gospel speaks of a “kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world”. All this goes strictly speaking beyond religion as we know it and practise it. It is about establishing Ezekiel’s new social order, it is about proclaiming a new hope in a world exacerbated by greed and the search for profit and so many distortions that keep God’s kingdom at bay.

This recalls one of the homilies of St Basil in the fourth century. It’s the year 368 and Basil sees the same evils in his own day as in the days of the prophet Amos. He says: “We lack the basic necessities of life, we are new Israelites seeking a new Moses and his marvellous, effective rod in order that stones, being struck, might supply the needs of a thirsting people and clouds might drop down manna, that strange food.”

Basil fears that without repentance the people of his region may become a “new narrative of famine and judgement”. In modern society, as at the time of Basil, the narrative of famine, of exclusion, of a dehumanising society is still dominant. The problem, especially for us Christians, is that our criteria for building Christ’s kingdom on earth still do not match God’s criteria.

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