At the parish where I grew up, there was a fairly unusual statue outside the doors of the church. Normally statues are of one of the saints or Mary or something familiar like that, but this was a statue of a homeless person – a life size statue of a person sitting on the ground, wrapped in blankets against the cold, head drooping and covered by a hood, and a single hand outstretched with palm up begging for money. Most people paid little attention to this statue, despite it being literally right next to the door. But if you looked closely enough at the statue, you saw in the palm of the outstretched hand the stigmata, the wound of the nail pounded through the hand of Christ. It was a statue of a homeless person, but it was also a statue of Christ, and you would only know if you stopped, and looked, and thought about the presence of the statue.
Today is the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, and when we think of Christ as King, Christ as the Word which brought forth creation, our image is much like the start of the Gospel: in his glory upon the throne, surrounded by the angels and the nations placed before his judgment. But the rest of the Gospel demands that we recognize Christ the King not in his glory but in the hungry and thirsty, in the stranger and the poor and the ill and the imprisoned. And not only should we recognize Christ in the poor and broken of our society, but the Gospel says that our very judgment will be based on it. “Whatever you did or did not do for the least brothers of mine, you did or did not do for me.”
The most dangerous thing that we can do as Christians is to mentally or emotionally separate ourselves from the needy of this world, from our brothers and sisters that Christ doesn’t just love but that He identifies Himself with. The nations that were judged in this parable didn’t even know the criteria for their judgment. Both the sheep and the goats responded by asking the Lord when they ministered to him in this way. So how much more important for you and I, who know what the criteria is, who know that before the throne of judgment the King of the Universe is going to ask us how we treated the lowliest of the world… how much more important that we do these things. To recall last week’s Gospel, much has been given to us and much will be expected in return. And to recall the Gospel from two weeks ago, stay awake and be prepared to be in the presence of the bridegroom.
In fact, if you take the Gospels seriously the past few weeks will not have been easy. When the liturgical year ends we focus on the return of Christ and read these Gospels about judgment. I can tell you that just from what we proclaim today it makes me personally stop and worry a little bit about how I measure up, whether I can honestly say that I am intentional about caring for the poor and needy. The self examination the Gospels force on us is a good thing. Not an easy thing, but a good thing. But just in case you are drowning in anxiety and need something to grab onto in all of this… keep in your hearts the first reading. The Lord God says that he will care for his sheep, will seek out the lost and strayed and injured and sick and bring them peace and healing. This Gospel vision of the day of judgment is not meant to condemn us but to open our eyes, to bring us back like those sheep that have strayed; the Lord is showing us a truth of life that we might otherwise not see and harden our hearts to. So do not fear and do not despair. Instead heed the Gospel, find some small way to respond to it, and give thanks that you have begun to see Christ in those people in need. “Whatever you did or did not do for the least brothers of mine, you did or did not do for me.”
Sign up here to have newly posted homilies sent right to your email.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.