Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This impressive title calls to mind Christ’s heavenly glory and His power over nature. But how often do we think of the authority of Christ on earth?
Our readings give us a hint of this: imagery of Christ as the Good Shepherd surrounds talk of Christ’s all-encompassing victory over the grave. The First Reading and the Psalm give a comforting picture of a Lord Who provides for all the needs of His people, watching over and protecting them in this life and preparing them for the next. These are important duties of earthly authorities: protect your subjects and promote the common good. They bring out Christ’s daily guidance of His people.
Deeper still, we see the Good Shepherd take on the responsibility of judgment in Matthew’s Gospel. The Son of God takes judgment beyond the earth: He is the judge of our eternal state, and can give eternal rewards and punishments. Of course, this is nothing new to us, since we already know that God has authority in the heavenly sphere.
What about the earthly sphere? Matthew 25 not only refers to eternal judgment, but also to earthly authority. Just as the kings of the earth can punish our wicked actions and incentivize our righteous ones in this life, so can Jesus Christ the King do the same. The difference, at least in this passage, is that He chooses to wait until the final judgment to hand down His decisions. This does not mean that our actions or inactions do not matter, but rather that the response comes later than we might expect.
This can catch us off guard, but it is important to keep perspective. In the Old Testament, before the coming of Christ, it was common for God to mete out harsh punishments in the moments following grave sin. We need only to look at Sodom and Gomorrah, the Golden Calf incident, and the Ten Plagues to see examples.
Now, rewards and punishments are still present, but many of them are reserved for the afterlife. Christ speaks of earthly tribulation in store for His faithful disciples, but promises eternity for those who last until the end. He often chooses to simply rebuke rather than smite sinners in His public ministry, but He is clear about their final state. The judgment is still there, claimed by Jesus Christ the King, but it might not come until purgatory, heaven, or hell.
Remembering this fact helps us to keep in mind that Jesus is still watching over us — a central point in the readings. Christ holds authority over both heaven and earth, the entire universe, and we experience that authority differently depending on our relationship with Him. In this life, we may either hear the gentle call of the Shepherd or feel the strong sting of His rod. After death, we will hear Him say either “Depart from me!” or “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.”
To those who love Him and seek to walk in his paths, the supreme authority of Christ the King is something sweet. To those who ignore His commands and go astray, it is terrifying. Confident in our Faith, let us happily follow our King wherever He leads.
David Dashiell is the Associate Director of Liturgy for a group of parishes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he is not spending time with his wife and infant daughter, he is writing on philosophy and theology for various online publications. You can find some of these in Crisis Magazine and the Imaginative Conservative, and you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature Image Credit: mileschristi, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/4129-divina-majestad