Shepherd King – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 25:31-46, Solemnity of Christ the King

Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925, and for good reason. In the 1920s arose totalitarianism and fascist dictators: Mussolini, Stalin, Hirohito, all finally inspiring a Hitler. Christendom needed reminding that Christ was, is, and the only king.

If you notice, many world leaders today are unhinged. Last month, I read up on the psychology of power, just to get an idea of what goes on in their heads. Most enlightening for me was a research made by Yale University Professor Michael Kraus and his team. Their conclusion: “Power doesn’t make people bad. It just reveals their true nature.” They observed that the more power people got, the freer they felt to be their real, authentic selves. So, per their research, power doesn’t really corrupt. It just brings out into the open the corruption someone already has. Obama was spot-on when he said, “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.” If I could hazard my own benchinko-worth theory, maybe the opposite is also true. That someone who’s already deeply and authentically good when powerless, will only be the even kinder soul when powerful. We just have to see more world leaders like this today. Because as things are, power has exposed the ineptitude and chauvinism of our ‘kings’ more than anything else, really.

This has a downside on our image of a ‘king.’ Our idea of ‘king’ is still ruled heavily by how world leaders use power to perpetuate themselves. To do this, they silence their critics and threaten them. They amass wealth, undeserved and ill-gotten. They curry popular favor from the poor, then desert them for the rich. They make lies sound true by telling them casually. They pander to people’s vulgar appetites. And finally, they use all their power to settle scores.

That’s why I sometimes wish we didn’t use the word ‘king’ on Jesus, sisters and brothers. Jesus of Nazareth was nothing like today’s kings. Rather, the power God gave him only brought out into the open his deep and authentic goodness. He was hopelessly compassionate and loved the company of the poor. He brought out the best in people by healing and feeding them, by telling them stories about an incredibly affectionate God upon whom they could place their hopes and sorrows. He forgave them their faults which hierarchs would forever damn. In other words, the power the Father gave his Son was that of shepherding. I’m glad our first reading envisions God as a shepherd. “Thus says the Lord God,” Ezekiel says. “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. I will rescue them from being scattered in the dark. I will give them rest. The lost I will seek, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. I will shepherd them rightly.” Like Father, like Son. Look what kind of power Shepherd Father instilled in Shepherd Son: the power of selflessness.

If you notice, today’s Gospel about sheep and goats is an allusion to shepherding. I know I cannot prevent you from thinking of the ‘end of the world’ whenever you hear this Gospel, when sheep will go to heaven and goats to hell when the Messiah comes to settle the score. If you’re a hard-core believer in end-of-the-world scenarios, at least allow me to offer you an alternative interpretation to the parable of sheep and goats.

At the end of each desert day, shepherds have to separate sheep from goats. It’s not because sheep are meek and goats are pala-away so that they’d have to spend the night separately. Wool keeps sheep naturally warm overnight even without a roof over them. Goats, however, don’t do equally well in the cold and their young can die of hypothermia during the night. So, while sheep can sleep in open corrals, goats are herded into an enclosed, warmer shed, with the ground layered with hay. See? That’s how shepherds take good care not just of meek sheep but also of pala-away goats! Both are cared for, lovingly!

Sisters and brothers, if you and I are truly self-aware rather than self-righteous, we should count ourselves as the goats in God’s Kingdom rather than sheep, shouldn’t we? But we need not fear the coming of the King as a settling of scores. Our King is a deeply and truly a Shepherd. First of all, our selfless King does not wait for the end of the world to trumpet his presence. No; he’s already here, always was, always is. And secondly, nothing makes our King feel ever more powerful than when he’s shepherding us, his fickle, fearful flock.

So, long live Christ our King! Long live Jesus, our one, our only Shepherd-King!

*image from Pinterest

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