Christ the King: If these are the rules of life, then play the game to win!

Listen to mp3 file
Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, Year A: Nov. 20, 2011
Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 23; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Matt 25:31-46

Think for a moment of some examples of competitive games that are based upon life itself.

  • You might think of the board game The Game of Life, in which you drive your little plastic car around the board, spinning the wheel and making choices about education, career, family, and retirement.
  • Or you might think of computer strategy games like Civilization or Age of Empires, in which, on a much larger scale, you guide the development of an entire society, making choices about farming, industry, the military, and cultural development.
  • Or you might think of any of the plethora of reality television shows that make contestants live out some game, 24/7, as they compete and are either eliminated or ultimately win the game.

In any of these cases, if you are beginning such a game, you want to know: What are the objectives? How do you score points? What do you have to do to win? And who is the judge who decides?

Now suppose that the answer comes back that this particular game will be won by the player who does the most works of mercy: corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked; and spiritual works of mercy, such as instructing the ignorant and comforting the afflicted. And as you take that in, then you learn: one of your competitors is none other than Mother Teresa. Oh man! What chance do you have? And some of you might want to give up right then! But some of you are much more competitive than that! And your response would be: “Bring it on, Sister! I’ll out-mercy you any day! Any time, any place!—if those are the rules of the game.”

But, if those words aren’t just going to be an empty bluff, you will need to strategize very carefully.

  • For example, in playing through this game of life, maybe you shouldn’t go to college and grad school, because you would lose years without doing any works of mercy. But then again, maybe you should, because if you train in medicine or counseling or certain other subjects, you could come out uniquely equipped for certain very powerful works of mercy. You just would have to make sure you didn’t get distracted and off course.
  • Or, maybe you shouldn’t get a job. Think about all those lost hours from doing works of mercy. But then again, a job could provide you with money and resources that would enable you to provide things like food for the hungry and clothes for the naked. In fact, if you make your job entirely about doing works of mercy, marshaling many resources and organizing many people, that could put you in a very competitive position. As long as you didn’t get distracted or off course.
  • And should you have a family? If you remain single, you would have lots of free time to do more works of mercy for many people. But then again, if you are married and have children, you will constantly be doing works of mercy for them in your home: every day, many times a day, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, teaching and counseling and comforting!

So, which way to go? If you’re going to win the competition for most works of mercy in a lifetime, and you’re going to beat Mother Teresa, it’s going to take some serious focus and strategy. How would you live your life to win?

And is that, in fact, how you are living your actual life right now?

When we look around us at other people in our area, or around the world, we see lots of activity, lots of competition, and many goals being sought. We see people trying to overcome dangers, challenges, and needs; we see people trying to achieve comfort, possessions, status, honor and satisfaction. So many things; so much activity; so much jostling and competition among people and nations!

But, in the picture that our Lord Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel reading, at some future point, it all stops; it all falls away. And on that Last Day, 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. Everything else falls away, and everyone stands before our Lord—who is revealed as King of the universe, and our eternal judge.

To so many in our world today, Jesus is a figure who was a good man, a wise man, a holy man—one who is admired. And one who is largely ignored—at least when it comes to making actual, defining decisions about our life activities and objectives. But our Lord Jesus has told us that when the Last Day comes, the only thing that will matter—the basis upon which we will be judged and receive either eternal life or eternal punishment—will be: how did we respond to him; and especially, how did we respond to others, “the least brothers of his,” who needed our works of mercy?

This is his claim! Now, if I said that about myself, or your next-door neighbor said that, or your boss said that—that you would be judged eternally based solely upon your response to him or her—and meant it seriously—you would know that this person was mentally ill, and that you should protect yourself and others from them. For it simply would not be true. Will you judge Jesus as mentally ill? For if his claim to be King of the universe and eternal judge is not true, then he is not good or wise or holy.

But if his claim is true, then he is the sovereign who deserves your complete loyalty and obedience. You have to give your whole life to him. You have to reorder your goals, your methods, your daily activities, your entire life, according to what he reveals to be true and valuable. Only in this way will we win the true Game of Life; only in this way will we avoid being eliminated or voted off the island into eternal punishment. Only in this way will we ever score more points than Mother Teresa!

But, although the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ is demanding, it is not oppressive or burdensome. For this King is a true shepherd, as we hear in the first reading and in the psalm. He does not seek to exploit or oppress us; rather, he looks after and tends us. He seeks us out when we are lost, binds up our injuries, heals our sicknesses, guides us in right paths; he refreshes our soul. He came to give us mercy, so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

The Second Vatican Council wrote: “Christ is the Lord and goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the fulfillment of all its yearnings.” (Gaudium et spes, 45)

And so, when Christ our King commands us to show others his mercy, to spread his good news, and to seek to bring all people and all things under his kingly direction, we know that this means abundant life for us and for others. And so, let us serve him with boldness: not hiding timidly in superficial niceness; but reaching out deeply; serving others rather than using them; giving of ourselves in true love and holiness.

As Pope Pius XI wrote when he established this feast, “He must reign in our minds… He must reign in our wills… He must reign in our hearts… He must reign in our bodies…” (Quas primas, 33) And as our Holy Father Pope Benedict has urged us:

“Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.”

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