In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, the entire court is shocked at the ascension of young Henry to the throne after the death of his father. Henry was known as one not attune to courtly manners and attention to serious duty. He frequently visited taverns and cavorted with the lower classes in his various escapades. No one thought Henry would make a suitable king for the great realm of England. What people failed to notice, however, is that Henry was not merely having revel, but rather he was meeting the people of his realm, getting to know them, understanding their lives and problems – for these would be the people who would fight his wars and pay his taxes. Henry learned to serve them and love them, and in so doing learned the true greatness of leadership. Today’s feast of Christ the King reminds us that service, not power and prestige, is the hallmark of Christian leadership.
The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel provides us with the paradigm of leadership in ancient Israel – the shepherd. All the great leaders of Israel were shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Moses, David. A shepherd cannot lead and protect his flock in a sheltered bunker apart from them. He must be in the midst of his flock, getting to know them and love them. This intimacy enables the shepherd to seek out the lost and stray sheep, and to face any danger in protecting his flock from danger. Shepherding is not pleasant work: you get dirty and smelly in caring for the sheep, and you are exposed to the elements in being with them in the field. This model, however, is the model Jesus adopts for his leadership, one that is passed on to the shepherds of the Church who take up the shepherd’s staff of leading their flock.
In order to live the life of service, the follower of Jesus must place oneself in an inferior position in relation to others. This idea of submission is the point Paul makes in the second reading. Jesus the Lord submitted to the will of the Father, and in so doing he destroyed sin and death. In the same way, we can overcome sin and death in our lives through submission to God. This submission then puts us in the spirit of service to others that is the hallmark of Christian living and leadership. By this submission we lose ourselves in the identity of Christ and participate more fully in the solidarity called for by Christian service.
The obligation of the Christian Gospel, however, is not restricted to those who profess the name Christian. In the Gospel reading we see all peoples coming for judgment. Our judgment is not based on our knowledge of the catechism or any system of theology. We are judged solely on whether we have served the least of Jesus’ brethren. It is significant that both the sheep and the goats do not recognize the Lord Jesus in the least ones, for they ask, “When did we see you hungry, or naked, or in prison?” Human beings are fundamentally constituted to being Christian, and the baptized faithful recognize our fundamental human vocation to be followers of Jesus. It is our task to make that vocation known to others in both word and deed. By fulfilling our Christian and human vocation to serve others we most effectively proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who calls us and provides us with the example to follow.
The call to ministry and discipleship has been given to each and every person. This mission requires great humility, a generous heart, and great fortitude in enduring many things. Most importantly, it is a call that demands that we be in the midst of the world, getting dirty and exposing ourselves to great dangers as we serve each and every human person without exception. Such a calling cannot be done from an ivory tower or some protected enclave. It requires us to immerse ourselves in the messiness of this world and to love all unconditionally.
Henry V famously encouraged his men to battle with these words:
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (Act iv, scene iii)
The Lord Jesus asks us to shed our blood – to be his brother – in his army of peace and service to all. We pray together for the grace to follow his lead: “Let us pray that the kingdom of Christ may live in our hearts and come to our world. Father all powerful, God of love, you have raised our Lord Jesus Christ from death to life, resplendent in glory as King of creation. Open our hearts, free all the world to rejoice in his peace, to glory in his justice, to live in his love. Bring all mankind together in Jesus Christ your Son, whose kingdom is with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is chancery chief of staff and director of the human rights office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.usccb.org/
Monday, November 21
Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Tuesday, November 22
Daniel 3:57, 58, 59, 60, 61
Wednesday, November 23
Daniel 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28
Daniel 3:62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67
Thanksgiving Day Mass
Thursday, November 24
Psalms 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Friday, November 25
Daniel 3:75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81
Saturday, November 26
Daniel 3:82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87
First Sunday of Advent, November 27
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.