Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
November 23, 2014
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
Naming Christ a king implies a great deal, but I would like to pursue one particular significance to the title—that is, direction.
Historians tell us that the etiquette of the period required the king of France eat by himself while everyone else in the court watched. This strikes us as odd. But the point was that all eyes were to be kept on the king. The king was not just anyone. He was the head of state. His identity was that of the kingdom itself. He was not just a man who happened to inherit a title. He was the anointed one, chosen by God to rule. Attention was directed to him.
Directing our attention to the king is implied in the Gospel today from St. Matthew. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him” (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus returns not as a friendly neighbor, a kind of “I’m okay, you’re okay” non-judgmental type. No, there is nothing “warm and cuddly” here about Jesus. He is coming as judge, and everyone who has ever lived “will be assembled before him.” They will face in the direction of the judge, the King of the Universe, who will separate them into two groups, the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:32-33).
As the accused faces the judge for the verdict, all will await the sentence of Jesus. There are the redeemed, those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and visited the imprisoned. There are the damned, as well, condemned to “eternal fire” with Satan and his devils, who did nothing to assist with food, drink, welcome, clothing, healing or a visit.
However, both groups puzzle over the criterion for this judgment. Both the sheep and the goats ask why they assisted or ignored the Judge Himself. Jesus answers, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
The King disguised himself in the poor and the needy. And what is truly sobering is that neither the saved nor the damned recognized Him in His disguise. The “sheep” did what they did because they were habitually loving—we call this virtue. The “goats” did what they did because they were habitually selfish—we call this vice. The poor were invisible to the goats. The sheep, on the other hand, saw the poor and consumed with love directed themselves to Jesus. To face in the right direction is to find the King in those with whom He identifies.
Christ the King reminds us of the need to be properly directed. When we come face to face with the “poor,” we encounter Jesus Himself. The poor we will always have with us (John 12:8). Christ needs those with whom He can identify.
One of the oldest hospitals in the West was run by the Catholic Knights of Malta (Sacra Infermeria, Malta, c. 1574). The Knights who cared for the patients addressed them as seigneurs malades and served the sick with utensils made of sterling silver. Why did they give the sick a noble title and use precious metal for their meals and surgical tools? Why this extravagance? Because the sick were to be treated like nobility. Only later did science tell us that bacteria cannot survive on sterling silver. In serving Christ the King in the sick, the Knights were unaware that they were giving them more. They were giving the sick an opportunity to recover. What they did for Christ’s sake benefited the sick in ways that remained unknown to them. They faced the sick as they would have directed their attention to a king and merited unknowingly a kingly reward. “[W]hatever you did … you did for me.”
Bishop Glen John Provost