Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and it is no accident that the image selected for this Sunday is meant to sum up all the others, that is the image of Christ the King.
For most of us, royalty, majesty, speaks of the distance between the King and ordinary people, how much unlike other people the King is.
But for Christ, the title ‘King’ meant just the opposite. Christ is King because his life is so intimately bound up with our own. He is a king who rules from within. He doesn’t exercise power, he is power. Christ is the bond of history because, as St Paul puts it in the second reading, it is Christ who draws together all the separates, diverse forces and energies in that history, giving them a single unified purpose and direction.
The bond between this King and his people is so total, so intimate that any act of kindness and acceptance directed toward any one of his people is experienced by Christ himself. Any act of unkindness or hurt directed toward any one of his people is experienced by Christ himself. And the Gospel clearly expects us to take that quite literally. When Christ says, “What you do to these you do to me,” he is not using vague poetic symbols.
He is rather, revealing to us the deepest reality of all our human interaction, a truth we must take into consideration – any time we make a moral judgement, any time we decide how we are going to act in any particular situation.
So the moral decision for a Christian is not first “How should I act towards this or that person?” The question is rather “How should I act toward Christ himself?”
And it is really only when we begin to seriously ask that question, when we realise that Christ himself feels our kindnesses and is hurt by our offences, only then do our loving deeds become truly Christian. When we finally begin to see Christ as the third party in every contact we have with other people, then we will begin to free ourselves from the need to be repaid for all our goodness, the need to be recognised, honoured, and rewarded for all the wonderful things we do. As long as we are bound by that kind of desire, our love is not Christian self-giving, it is simply a business deal.
Christ calls each of us to a careful concern for the way we build our lives today, a careful concern for all the people that fill those lives … because whatever we do to one of them, we do to him.