This is Christ the King, a special feast day of the church. It was created around 1850 by Pope Pius IX. There were many world leaders vying for earthly control. Pope Pius wanted to draw attention again to Jesus as the true king. So, what kind of king should be imagined?
We have a difficulty understanding what a king is in our culture, but fortunately we have Biblical examples that help us understand. The rabbis point to King David as the best model. David was but a shepherd when the king anointed him. He did not take over royalty immediately, as Saul was king. The Israelites were in battle with the Philistines. Goliath was challenging the Israelites to send their champion. David stepped forward. God had prepared David as a shepherd for years. In Israel, being a shepherd was not an easy matter. David had to save the flock from lions and bears and other large animals. David looked at Goliath as another challenge to his flock. He would defeat Goliath like any other lion he had fought. God prepares us for the challenges we have in life.
But you could argue that David was not so good. He had an illicit affair, had a man killed so he could marry that man’s wife, and fought many wars to conquer the surrounding areas. The difference was that when David sinned, he sought reconciliation with God. He turned to God in good times and bad times. David tried to protect his flock and bring them to God.
That is the example of a king, the example Jesus gave us. He did not lose any of the flocks God had given him. He wanted all people to turn to Him and seek God’s forgiveness.
David was chosen by a classification process. All his brothers were considered first, but God reads the heart of man. God separated David from his brothers. God had a special vocation for David. Today we hear about this separation in the Gospel. The criteria for determining who the sheep or goats were are the corporal works of mercy. Our first inclination might be to spend time talking about the corporal works of mercy. But a deeper issue is to consider this means of separation. Both the sheep and the goats performed works of mercy; why were they separated?
God has placed in our hearts a natural law: do good and avoid evil. There are many people who are not Christians who are particularly good. There are people who have also learned that it is in their interest to do these acts of goodness. By donating large sums to various charities, they allow others to do the corporal works of mercy that they themselves do not want to do. They learn that certain acts of kindness will look good on their resume and make them more desirable to be hired in large companies. Again, they themselves did not personally do the corporal work of mercy, but they found a way to participate or take credit. When Jesus tells them that they did not give food, water, shelter, or clothing, they think their generosity covered what was needed. But, as we know, it wasn’t true love of neighbor.
The sheep, on the other hand, were separated because they were personally involved. Pope Francis says they smelled like sheep. They devoted themselves to the lives of those who needed food, water, or clothing or shelter. They did so out of compassion, without thinking about themselves or how their actions might benefit themselves. They didn’t seek payment or recognition. They did it because they cared.
That is how we separate ourselves from the culture today. It is through our compassion and love of our neighbor. Before we meet Jesus, we have separated ourselves in a special way that we do not understand, but it is real. Ask yourself this week, how have you separated yourself for Jesus?
May the Lord bless you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen