How do you see God? I think of this question every time we come to the feast of Christ the King. The first reason, is that the notion of kings, in this day and age, are often, when we think about them today, something that could be considered largely ceremonial. There are very few kings in the world today, who have any real political power. And so, thinking about Jesus Christ as a king, could lead one to think that God’s role in our world is largely ceremonial, we can go to church, and we can even be moved by the liturgical celebrations that we see, but when it comes to really making a difference in our day-to-day lives, we can think of Christ the King in the same way that we think of the kings and for that matter Queens of the world who really don’t seem to do very much.
Or, second, perhaps we long for the days of the past. And so when we think of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are given this image of the King on a large and ornate throne, surrounded by numerous individuals who are at the beck and call of the King. with this image of God, we can think of Jesus as far off and distant, someone we would never dare approach, for we do not share in any way the life of royalty.
When we think of the image of God, it can be very difficult indeed. Certainly, understanding God is beyond our ability. God is far greater than anything we can imagine. For that matter, even the life that awaits us in heaven, is in the words of St. Paul something that we cannot simply conceive of in any way, on our own. He tells us, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” The only way we could know these things, is because of the free and gracious action of God. It is God who is revealed this to us in a way that helps us to understand.
Because God is so far beyond our understanding, there can also be a temptation to see the person of Jesus really is not much different than you and me. Of course, Jesus is fully human, but we cannot forget that Jesus is also fully divine. It is in fact these natures of Jesus, which are important when we consider the question of God, who God is, and what things are important to God. For the real mystery of the incarnation of Jesus is in seeing how the imminent and the transcendent coexist. It simply is not easy for us to put together a notion of God that is very close to us and very near to us, on the one hand, with the notion of God that is magnificent and awesome and outstanding, on the other hand.
Such is what we are confronted with as we think of this feast of Christ the King. Historically, this feast was instituted as a reminder to people in the age of increasing nationalism, where participation was rightly emphasized, that this participation should not come at the expense of our understanding that we were also citizens of God. There was a concern that with rising nationalism, people were forgetting that their primary allegiance resided first and foremost in how we serve God.
It seems to me that we still share this challenge today. It is no different than the attempt to understand the integration and the working together of the imminent and transcendent aspects of our God. There can be times, when someone who knew little about Christianity, could conclude from watching certain Christians in the United States, for example, that the primary allegiance of being a Christian is to be an American. It is to see that every action of the United States, is worthy of being the only representation of our faith.
Also, we can fall into the trap today of emphasizing the imminent or the transcendent alone. We can so think about the glory of God that we risk not serving the needs of others. We can so emphasize the imminence of God that we can think all of life is simply about doing. As the saying goes, “Jesus is coming, look busy.”
What we do celebrate today in the feast of Christ the King, must be understood through the readings that the church presents to us to contemplate. What we see in today’s readings, is not something that represents lofty ideals, or a magnificence that we simply cannot possibly imagine. We see that Christ the King, the service that he desires, is in the most basic ways. It is making sure that the hungry have food to eat. It is making sure that the thirsty have water to drink. It is making sure that the most vulnerable people in our society those in prison or those who are sick or the stranger among us, those must be visited, comforted and treated with the dignity they deserve.
As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, it should cause us to be somewhat unsettled because of the circumstances we face today in our country and in our world. Do we visit those in prison? Do we visit the sick? Do we welcome the stranger? Now it is here, that I think a specific example might help us to recognize the deep challenge that exists in welcoming the stranger. Because even among Christians, this notion of welcoming the stranger, when it is applied to the question of immigration, is difficult indeed. We can choose not to welcome the stranger, or we can be selfish and greedy holding everything we have only for ourselves.
But the readings also remind us today, that it is the initiative of God himself, who helps us to understand what matters and what is important to God. It is God himself, who will shepherd us, it is God himself, who will seek to find us when we are lost. While not minimizing our own participation in this kingdom of God, the first reading makes it clear that we must never forget that we do what we do because of our reliance on the grace of God.
Sometimes coming to an understanding of God, can be done not by trying to define who God is, , but rather who God is not. And so, while God does long to comfort us, and God does love us, God is not a teddy bear. While God is majestic inglorious, while God is all-powerful, God is not an arbitrary dictator ready to challenge us in unfair ways at any moment. As Moses reminds us in the book of Deuteronomy, it is also not the case that God is so far away that we cannot experience in. It is not the case that God is so mysterious that we cannot come to at least a small understanding of who God is. The covenant of God is written deep in our hearts. God sent his son Jesus so that we might have an example of how to live and serve our King.
Understanding the dignity of God, begins when we understand that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. As a result, every human being becomes an occasion for us, to learn a little bit more about God. When we think of those in the gospel both those who recognize the importance of serving others, and those who did not, the equation that Jesus makes is fundamentally clear. Those around us, are an invitation to help us to come to know the person of Jesus himself. For when we serve the poor, we serve Jesus. When we serve the hungry, we serve Jesus when we visit those in need, we visit Jesus. And conversely, when when we do not serve others, we also do not serve Jesus.
Today you are invited to me Jesus. You are invited to serve Jesus. And so my. So let us accept the invitation to experience and see the dignity of the Lord Jesus himself by reaching out to those in need. At the same time, we must spend time in the presence of our King. We must be open and eager to prayer, reflection and silence. We must be ready to encounter the greatness of God by opening our hearts.
When we keep both the transcendence and imminence of God in mind, we can then see both the glory of God and appreciate the importance of serving others.