Christ our Compassionate King
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 22. 2020
Christ the King Sunday
Today marks the end of the church year—a year in which we have explored Matthew’s interpretation of Christ and Matthew’s theology. For Matthew, it is through Jesus Christ that God has come to dwell with his people. For Matthew, Jesus, the Messiah, is a kingly figure, who suffers for his people and brings either salvation or judgment. For Matthew, the kingdom of God is a present and a future reality made up of those who do the will of God.
In our gospel reading, Christ is introduced as the King. How appropriate that the ending of the church year should climax with Jesus crowned Lord of All! Of course, kings have played an important role in Israel’s history. You remember the story told in I Samuel. All the elders of Israel come to Samuel saying, “You’re old and your sons are not following in your footsteps—appoint for us a king to govern us –like all the other nations.” Samuel is upset so he prays to God and God answers, “Listen to the people. They aren’t rejecting you; they’re rejecting me from being their king. Just as they have rejected me again and again since the time I brought them out of Egypt. So listen to them –but warn them what the king who will reign over them will do.”
Samuel tells the people of Israel, “This is what your king will do: draft your young men to the king’s army to make him implements of war and to fight, make you slaves to plow the fields and reap his harvest, your daughters will be forced to serve the king as perfumers, cooks and bakers, and he will take the best of your fields, vineyards and livestock for himself.” Then Samuel says, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”
Samuel warns—but the people refuse to listen, so God gives them a king. Eventually, all the “warnings” come to pass. The Israelites want laws, an army, a human monarch in the place of God. This chosen people who once had the choice of having God as their king, choose an earthly ruler instead. And oh, the price they pay! Sure, there are some kings who find favor in God’s sight—King David comes to mind. But as the years pass, evil kings outnumber the good ones and God’s people drift further away from the will of God.
God puts up with the earthly kings of the Davidic throne until finally, in the fullness of time, God brings forth a King who will perfectly keep his covenant and his word even to death on a cross. Elizabeth Achtemeier writes, “Jesus Christ becomes, in his person, all that Israel was meant to be—the obedient and faithful Son of God, called out of Egypt; the obedient cornerstone of a new community of righteousness and peace for all peoples, the Davidic ruler who knows how to protect the poor and to establish justice in society.”
Yes, Israel has quite a history with kings. In Matthew, we find them waiting for yet another; they await a warrior king—someone who will save them from Roman rule—but Jesus will not rule through intimidation, oppression, and war. Jesus is a King of Compassion who calls his people to be people of compassion. In verse 32, we see all the nations gathered before him, as Jesus, like a Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And what is his criteria? Who has shown compassion for the members of his family? Who has cared for the poor, the distressed, and the needy? And whom does Jesus identify with in this story? Jesus identifies with the sheep—I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was naked—Jesus makes the reference some 14 times. It is in the very nature of Jesus to identify with the afflicted, and in today’s reading, those who are blessed by Christ also identify with the afflicted—and they do so without even knowing it. They help the needy because they have the mind and heart of Christ. It is a natural, spontaneous expression of love and compassion.
Of course, we know that Jesus is rejected and crucified, but, ultimately, he is victorious over death. He rises once and for all in the power of the Sovereign King, who is determined to forgive us, that we may have life and have it in abundance. In short, Christ begins the final rule of the kingdom of God on earth. This is the king spoken of in today’s passage: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” For now, Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, on his heavenly throne, restraining his enemies and protecting the church, but there will come a time when he will appear openly, to establish perfect order in heaven and earth, to crush his enemies under his feet, and to assemble the faithful to share an everlasting and blessed life.[i]
Certainly, Christ’s way is not the usual ways of sovereigns. He is more powerful! His riches are endless! His kingship lasts for all eternity. Nevertheless, he does not use his power and glory to lord it over his subjects. Instead, he becomes the servant. Christ our Compassionate King rules with love and compassion. He identifies with this family of his who lives on earth. As followers of Jesus, we too often hunger or thirst, become sick, feel lonely. What a comfort to know that Christ shares the experience with us. And as Christ participates in the story of our lives, he calls us to be participants in his work of love and compassion for the world.
Dear church family, when I think of all you, during this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to be surrounded by a host of compassionate souls. You are a people of fervent prayer. You identify with the afflicted. You help those in need. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, you continue to find creative ways to be the light of Christ for the world. Indeed, you act as if you know the Arabic proverb, “The one who has bread is debtor to the one who has none.” You act as if you know that each earthly kindness draws us closer to that Great Feast we will share together with our LORD. Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you act as if you have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and you have responded, “Yes, my Shepherd! Yes, my Lord! Yes, my King!”
[i] John Calvin
*Cover Art “Christ the King” by Ira Thomas @ https://www.catholicworldart.com/1p-king.html. Used with permission