Kingdoms, be they ancient or modern, are about power: the powers that hold sway in our society and, of equal importance, the attitudes that rule our hearts. On this feast of Christ the King, St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians concentrates on the kingdom of the heart, whose inner struggle ultimately determines the direction of our lives. We long to be free, but are caught between powers that seek to dominate our lives. Paul described these powers as life and death. “Death came through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ.”
Paul was describing the experience of every sinner. While we long to live virtuous lives, we know that we are, at the same time, drawn to evil. We were created for a love and generosity that is truly life-giving. At the same time, we are undermined by a selfishness that brings death to our best intentions.
Which kingdom ultimately rules our hearts?
St Paul had no hesitation. For him, the Resurrection was the power of God laying claim to our lives. Paul’s words express the conviction that there is nothing in this world, nothing within ourselves or the world to come, that can overwhelm the power of God’s kingdom in the heart of the believer. Christ is King because he has overcome in us “every sovereignty, authority and power. He must be king until he has put all enemies under his feet.”
The Gospel takes us to the end of time when “the Son of Man, escorted by all the angels, will take his seat on his throne of glory”. All that we are is a pilgrimage to this final declaration of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is already among us in the presence of Christ. Day by day we build up that kingdom, not through the power of might, but through the presence of Christ in our lives. Each and every day lived in fidelity to the Gospel adds to that kingdom.
The final vindication of the Kingdom of God is also a judgment, a judgment that will lay bare the truth about our lives. “Then the King will say to those on his right hand: ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed.’ Next, he will say to those on his left hand: ‘Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.’ ”
Taken out of context, these words seem threatening. Taken within their context, they bring an unexpected and delightful encouragement. Those chosen by the King because they had fed him in his hunger and nakedness, had visited him in sickness and imprisonment, expressed their astonishment.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome?”
The words of Jesus bring our judgment into the present moment, into the choices that we make every day. “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
The Kingdom of God is no further away than our next act of kindness, our next word of forgiveness. It is in such acts that we both find and enter the kingdom of Christ our King.