It sounds a lot like what Jesus reveals to his disciples in this Christ the King gospel reading from Matthew. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him." Then, to everyone's surprise, he will reveal that he has been undercover among them for some time, but truly a different kind of boss.
When Todd Ricketts became CEO of the Chicago Cubs, he took a turn on “Undercover Boss” and went into the beloved stands of Wrigley Field as –you guessed it- a beer vendor. In conversation with them afterwards, Ricketts revealed that he was impressed with the good humor and strong work ethic, which his staff had as they faced daunting challenges, demanding fans, and discouraging games.’ Certainly that was true if Mr. Rickets happened to have run into Lois Lyse, long time Unity member, hard working, good humored, and an usher at Wrigley Field for a dozen or more years. ‘It may be scandalous to compare Christ with a beer vendor--especially for the perpetually losing Cubs--but it’s encouraging to think that the Son of Man, our "enthroned king" might actually be happy with the work we're doing’ under discouraging conditions, demanding times, with sometimes daunting challenges. ( HYPERLINK "http://www.christiancentury.org/contributor/christine-chakoian" Christine Chakoian, Christian Century) "You who are blessed by my Father,” says Jesus, “well done, good and trustworthy servant.”
The contemporary Icon of Jesus I posted on the Friday Constant Contact email called, Christ in the Margins, portrays Jesus, looking through a barbed wire fence, his pierced hands grasping the strands of wire. And, as you contemplate it, it makes you wonder, is Jesus inside, looking out from this confinement, or outside, looking in?
On this final Sunday of the Church Year, Christ the King Sunday, the sweep of Jesus life is now revealed. Jesus, the innocent victim of judgment, had become Judge at the end. Jesus is reigning from an apocalyptic throne at the right hand of God, but he derives his glory from his servanthood, his acceptance of the cup God gave him to drink, as the crucified king. Jesus, who knew defeat, is now victorious! He is all-powerful, in his vulnerability. Jesus came to reveal the realm and kingdom of God, a wholly other culture of life, emptying himself here in the midst of our human culture of death – or as the Hymn of the Day says, “a different rule of righteousness, a different kind of king.”
And that’s also how Matthew describes the sheep at the kings’ right hand, “the righteous.” The righteous ones are those “blessed by God and who inherit the kingdom prepared for them since the foundation of the world.” Much like those who are “blessed” in the Beatitudes – the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the coming Son of Man chooses the sheep, not for their knowledge of doctrine or their good standing in the community, but for their actions toward “the least of these” here in the kingdom of this world. The Son of Man welcomes those who care for the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and imprisoned.
Jesus, like Todd Ricketts posing as a beer vender, goes undercover in our world. Not just to be judgmental, but to tell us ahead of time, to prophecy, and to illuminate the kingdom of heaven for us already, now. Jesus invites us to be followers, and to join him on the journey. In a sense, the journey, our discipleship, is all we have here, punctuated by the occasional and unpredictable mountain top experience of arrival.
So the choosing of sheep and goats reveals most of all that, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus not only reaches out to the least of these, he is one of them, the hungry and thirsty, the outcast and naked, the sick and imprisoned. If you love Jesus, if you are a follower, it will become a part of who you are. The way to God is the way of Jesus. And the way of Jesus is to instinctively care for the least of these, knowing that we are dependent on one another. How do we know? Because of the gospel good-news. Interestingly, the disciples, pre-Easter, did not know. They have to ask Jesus, “when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty, outcast or naked, sick or imprisoned?”
Whether a sheep or a goat, they don’t know. They have to ask. But we, on this side of the grave, know already. Christ is risen! The cat is out of the bag! The victim, has become the Victor! Jesus is on both sides of the barbed wire fence – the prisoner has come to set us free! The beer-vender-boss, knows us inside and out, has lived our life and invites us to follow him into a life of service, and blessedness.
The culture of this world, with it’s promise to reward the successful with more success, teaching them to lord it over others, has been inverted and overcome by Jesus. Following Jesus to the cross we experience the power of love, a stumbling block to the world. Jesus, the one judged on the cross, is the merciful Judge at the end. We learn forgiveness in Jesus’ pardon of his executioners, and view the threshold of a new culture of life, in living for the least of these.
The God on high, a ruler we so wish to save and protect us, comes and humbles himself to live among us in human form precisely as one of the least of these. This is truly a different kind of undercover boss and king. Jesus ushered in the culture of love and justice that can unite the world, and create abundant life. This is the culture prepared for us from the foundation of the world. The end has been revealed – and this good-news will not be put back in the box. “Come to the banquet – you who have been blessed by my Father,” eat and be satisfied – for I am with you, even now, until the end!