"In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me". (Matthew 25:39)
We celebrate today the Feast of Christ our King. It is the culmination of the Church year as we celebrate Christ gathering all things to himself and ruling as Lord of all creation.
But the images presented to us in the readings speak very little of kingship directly. The word "King" appears a couple of times in the Gospel, though in fact we have are presented rather with other images of Christ, images which explain what kind of King he is.
Firstly, he is a Shepherd. We see this especially in the reading from the prophet Ezekiel and in the Psalm. These are familiar and comforting words: The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want, the Psalm says. He looks after the lost one, brings back the stray, bandages the wounded and keeps the weak strong, Ezekiel tells us. His care is especially for the weak and the wounded, the vulnerable, those who are poor, not simply in monetary terms, but those whose spirit needs lifting and sustaining, whose hearts are heavy, who reach out for the embrace of his love. He revives our drooping Spirit.
But there is another image, too. The Shepherd is also a Judge. The Shepherd may present a comforting image, but that he is also a Judge may be discomforting. He separates the sheep from the goats. He assigns the just punishment to those on his left hand. He distinguishes between the virtuous, who have carried out the works of mercy, and those who have not, and dispatches them to their fate.
When this Gospel is read, often the reading ends with the reward of the virtuous. It may be for reasons of length, but it may also be because we have a slight apprehension that our place amongst the sheep might not be as secure as we would hope. The gentle shepherd may seem a little too demanding for us.
But the message is not different, but the same. Just as we may be poor in needing his compassion to lift up our drooping spirit, so we are rich in being able to offer that compassion to others. He calls on us too to clothe the naked, visit the sick, feed the hungry, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, make the weak strong.
This is not a fierce and painful judgment, but no more than a challenge to share what we have been given, to forgive others as we are forgiven ourselves, to show mercy to others as his mercy has been given to us, to love as we are loved.