We are closing this liturgical year with the celebration of the solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.
Today’s readings prove beyond any doubt that, out of love for us, Jesus Christ gave up his royal status to share in our lowly human predicament so that we could inherit his Kingdom.
This solemnity is full of surprises, to indicate that the life of a true believer must be a life where surprises become the rule rather than the exception.
The first surprise is the fact that, in Jesus, God decides to shepherd us personally. I am sure that the prophet Ezekiel himself (Ezekiel 34: 11-12; 15-17) was surprised when God revealed this to him.
Accordingly, we should get past the quaint gloss of a poetic representation of God as shepherd to be deeply shocked by the life that, in Christ, he chooses for himself by shepherding us.
I think we must go back at least 100 years to get an appreciation of Jesus’ love for us as our Shepherd.
Goats and sheep stink to an incredible degree. Their stench clings to clothes and everything else. Thus, they become a good analogy for the sorry condition of our hearts and the stench of sin in them.
There is also the stark fact of embracing a sacrificed, rugged type of life at the mercy of the elements.
And let us not forget the stupidity of the sheep; it is unmatched.
So, the picture of Jesus the King lowering himself to share our condition by shepherding us is already quite shocking in its realism.
Out of love, he bears the stench of our poor choices. He puts up with our stubborn refusal to admit our being lost, scattered, restless, strayed, injured, sick.
He must cajole us away from sterile pursuits that routinely get us into trouble or, at least, leave us terribly disappointed.
Yet, as St. Paul points out in the second reading, (1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28) we are in for more surprises: Christ our shepherd-King gives up his life so that our most feared of all enemies, death itself, may be defeated.
Hence, all these surprises lead us to the ultimate surprise, the one of the Resurrection and the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on the spoils of all our enemies, who are now his enemies.
And the surprise of the Resurrection is meant to trigger a chain reaction of surprises, some pleasant, some unpleasant, which we ought to accept, individually, as personal choices in view of sharing in the glory of the heavenly Kingdom.
One of the first unpleasant surprises must be the possibility of being “destroyed” by Christ. That would be the case if we have grown sleek, plump, and strong. (cf. Ezekiel 34:16))
Shocking indeed, especially to those claiming to be his sheep while embracing the ways of the world, such as climbing to the top by stepping over others and staying at the top by trampling on them.
This means that our being sleek and strong happened at the expense of other sheep’s wellbeing. And that is precisely the opposite of finding life by losing it for Jesus’ sake. (cf. Matthew 10:39)
As good shepherd, Jesus will “destroy” those with such a selfish attitude.
Another shocking surprise must be living a life of such inner freedom from worries and anxieties that we become viscerally comfortable with Jesus’ way of shepherding us: we would KNOW that there is nothing we shall want. (cf. Psalm 23)
And that means nothing, absolutely nothing, including all those issues that keep us awake at night and fill us with anxiety.
At this point, unsettled by some of these surprises, some of us might be ready to reclaim those partial surrenders and acts of trust placed in him in moments of unusual piety.
Without formally disowning Christ, we could begin to wonder if our lives would be better off if we retained some control over them. At gut level, it seems impossible to us that we shall not want anything if we truly abandon ourselves into Christ’s care.
However, for those among us, who are ready to be thoroughly surprised, there is one more much bigger shock.
We have been gradually preparing for it every time we
received the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion with an attitude of humble docility and sincere gratitude.
Hence, using the scale of what this world values, what weight would we assign to the small wafer we receive in Holy Communion?
Even though our behavior and choices often prove otherwise, as believers, we have claimed repeatedly that that wafer is of infinite value to us.
Today, solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, we must make sure that our behavior and our choices, are consistent with that belief lest we would be surprised when it will be too late.
In the narrative of the Last Judgment, both the sheep (caring people) and the goats (self-absorbed people) are surprised by what counts on Jesus’ scale. “Lord, when did we see you….”
Consequently, to avoid the ultimate unpleasant surprise, we resolve to overhaul our efforts and pursuits.
That might mean tossing away in disgust and disappointment a great deal of what we have toiled for most of our life to possess.
We must focus instead on whatever is lowly, insignificant, easily overlooked in the eyes of the world. We ought to direct our love and attention to the least of our brothers and sisters. Surprise, surprise, in them we shall find our Lord and King.
In them we shall find the key to the Father’s Kingdom.