The Solemnity of Christ the Universal King, Year A

Jesus in red with swathes of people around him, all naked  - Jesus is wearing a crown.

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31   'When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory.
25:32   All nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats.
25:33   He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
25:34   Then the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.
25:35   For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome,
25:36   lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me."
25:37   Then the upright will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
25:38   When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you?
25:39   When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?"
25:40   And the King will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."
25:41   Then 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.
25:42   For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink,
25:43   I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking clothes and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me."
25:44   Then it will be their turn to ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or lacking clothes, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?"
25:45   Then he will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me."
25:46 And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.'

Context

In the chapters 24-25 of Matthew's gospel which precede the Passion story, Matthew brings together the parables about the end of times and the Last Judgment.

Jesus speaks about himself as the Son of Man. He did that consistently  from the beginning of his public life (see 8:12; 9:6 etc). From the beginning he had in mind an image  borrowed from a text of the book Daniel (7:13-14), ‘I saw coming on the clouds of heaven as it were a son of man. He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence. On him was conferred rule, honour and kingship...’ Jesus applied this text to himself. From the beginning! So, in the story of today the Son of Man is called ‘the king’. But at the moment he speaks about himself as ‘the king’ he will be persecuted by the religious leaders (21,46) and he will approach his passion and outrageous death. He knows that. How did he bring together in his mind all these contradictory facts and feelings?

Commentary

The story itself is surprising as well. The King says about himself, ‘When I was hungry, thirsty, naked...’ Have you ever seen a hungry, thirsty or even naked king? The question of the upright is very understandable, ‘But Lord, when did we see you, the king, hungry, thirsty, naked...?’ Jesus’ answer is as surprising as is the story itself. He identifies himself with the poor and the ones in need. We remember that he said twice in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘I want mercy, no offerings’ (9:13; 12:7). Not devotion God, but love for our neighbour. Loving God and loving our neighbour is one and the same commandment (cfr. 22:37-39).

Jesus in red with a crown surrounded by many (small) naked people

The artist composes his painting in four sections. In the upper right corner we see Jesus in his the red outfit he wears in these paintings. He is seated upon the globe as a sign that he governs the world. That is already a dream. When I identify Jesus with love, charity and mercy, then love, charity and mercy administer our world and make the laws. Jesus is crowned as a king, but it is the crown of thorns. He is the suffering king from the passion story.

Behind him there are people in yellow, with an expression as if they are looking into the light. They must be the escort of the messengers (‘angels’) of whom the story is speaking.

Jesus’ feet are placed on a crossroad. In the lower left corner people are approaching the crossroad. There a separation takes place. One part rises up to the level of the angels. Jesus’ right hand is welcoming them. Their colour is changing from earthly green up to where the red colour of Jesus’ garment begins.

The other part of the people disappears under his feet. His left hand appoints where they have to go. Downwards. Their colour changes as well.

We need the content of the story to understand why some of the people are welcomed and some are doomed. On the outside there is no difference between the ‘good’ ones and the ‘bad’ ones. That could well be our daily experience: that looking in from the outside there is no difference between the good ones and the bad ones. Only Jesus, who is loved embodied, the one who can see into our hearts and who can read our minds, is able to make the definite discernment.

All the people are pictured naked. In the Dutch language there is a saying that you must unbare your buttocks: meaning: the real truth about you has to come to light.

Finally a last, almost funny, remark. In the parable Jesus says about himself, ‘I was naked...’ However, in the picture the only one who is not naked is Jesus.

Do I see myself somewhere in this painting?

What does Jesus see in me that others don’t see?

I take notice not only of the good or bad things, but also of the pain and the grief I carry with me, perhaps the marks of failures and wrong decisions. He, who is love and mercy embodied, whose crown is suffering and pain and who has now become our king, will notice my suffering and pain, and he will invite me to come over to his side.

Final word

This was the last Sunday of the Year of the Word where we read Matthew’s Gospel and meditated on its illustrations. We enjoyed this. Thanks for your attention and encouraging reactions.

Peter Clare & Dries van den Akker S.J.