The Hidden Kingdom (Mt 25:31-46)

26th November 2017

The King described today is not a stereotypical monarch: he is presented to us as a shepherd, much like the boy David in the Old Testament.

Before the prophet Samuel met David, one of Jesse’s sons, he was warned by the Lord: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus is not our typical King: when he processed into Jerusalem on a colt, the people hailed him as the Christ yet they failed to understand at a deeper level what his Kingship was about. Jesus was not going to save his people by the sword, he was going to save them by the blood of his Cross.

Jesus was born into the family of Joseph, who descends from the royal line of David; yet he was often disregarded – particularly at the beginning of his public ministry – as ‘the carpenter’s son.’ Indeed, the prophecy of Isaiah foretells: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Is 53:2). This is especially true when Jesus hangs on the Cross, his Holy Face all bloody and disfigured – yet ironically, this is when he is crucified as ‘King of the Jews’, words mockingly inscribed upon his Cross. It is as though, at that moment of death when the earthquake hit, the words of the Psalmist rang loud and clear: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever” (Ps 29:10). 

The perpetrators were spiritually blind and thus unable to see that Jesus truly was the Son of God, the King of Kings, for they did not live in the Kingdom of his Father. They are the goats that Jesus refers to in the Gospel, neglecting to see Jesus in the disguise of the lost, the stray, the wounded and the weak. Their incredulous, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” (Mt 25:44) reveals their underlying malady: they are not living in the Kingdom of God but in the kingdom of their own self. It is as though, if they had known that that person most in need was actually Jesus himself, then they would have deigned to help him – for their own glory and satisfaction. The hiddenness of our God – whether it be in the Eucharist, in the Word, or in the poor – teaches us to look beyond outward appearances and look with the Lord’s eyes at the heart. This is where truth resides – all else is only of our own making.

It is striking to see the Kingdom of God in its glory at Lourdes, where there is a total inversion of ‘social hierarchy’. In Britain, 90% of babies with Downs Syndrome are aborted. When I was last in Lourdes, however, a middle-aged man with Downs Syndrome was brought to the front of the altar in one of the large churches on the shrine site. As though on a stage, everyone’s eyes were fixed on him as we sang him Happy Birthday and applauded him and his mother who had faithfully looked after him for so many years. These are the real celebrities; the rejected and forgotten of our society are the ‘little ones’ to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs (cf. Mt 19:14).

It seems that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21) – and the Kingdom in which your soul lives, there will you abide for eternity. For if you live the Gospel values of truth, life, grace, holiness, justice, love, and peace, then ‘the Kingdom of God is already among you’ (cf. Lk 17:21). The Kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit – living these values naturally and spontaneously, as the virtuous did in the Gospel, means that the Spirit of Christ, his very own Life is living in you. As Christ himself passes in our midst – the incarnate Emmanuel disguised in the face of the lowly and the poor – so he too incarnates himself in our souls, so that we may live as ‘another Christ’ for our brothers and sisters, and may become a living host, a living Eucharist, pouring ourselves out as we live the Mass, that is the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. This is where our baptismal Kingship truly lies. The Prince of Peace we see riding on a colt into Jerusalem – commemorated every Palm Sunday – is a King who ‘made peace by his blood on the Cross’ (Colossians 1:20). Indeed, Jesus has shown us that the royal highway to true Kingship is self-sacrificial, obedient love. Jesus is the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, and remains lovingly obedient to his own Father, “glorifying in Obedience” (Prayer after Communion). For “when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all” (1Cor 15:28). The obedience of Fiat, ‘let it be’, to the Divine Will is also our own way of bringing about the Father’s Kingdom here on earth: in the prophetic words of the Our Father, Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.