Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church Year.
Pope Pius XI created this feast day in 1925 in response to growing nationalism in Europe. In 1925, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published, and Mussolini declared himself to be the dictator of Italy.
The primary purpose of this feast was to remind Catholic Christians that Jesus and his teachings were above the teachings of any national government. Today, some Christians, including some Catholics, are attempting to turn this feast into a day to push their personal political agenda. Many Christians are attempting to push their beliefs onto the public, beliefs about which Jesus never spoke. They have wandered far from Jesus who, in Catholic Christian theology, is the supreme king or head of the Catholic Church.
Although trying to politicize non-Jesus beliefs and themes, and pretending the beliefs are somehow “Christian,” is a very dangerous thing to do, it does have a positive side. This positive side is that it makes those of us who follow Jesus to look more closely at exactly what Jesus did and did not say.
Today, we look at the Gospel passage from Matthew. This selection quotes Jesus himself, so it is wise to pay special attention. Jesus reminds us that at the end of time, he will judge all the nations. The criteria on which we will be judged are crystal clear. We will be judged on how well we followed his commandments. No, I’m not talking about the Jewish commandments here. I’m talking about the Christian commandments we encounter in today’s reading. The specific commandments we see listed today are to give drink to the thirsty, give food to the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and care for the sick. Note that in this Gospel selection, Jesus did not put any conditions on how we are to treat those in need. He did not, for example, tell us that we should sit in judgment of those in need to determine if they “deserve” our help.
What these Christian commandments are saying is that we should treat those in need as Jesus himself. In fact, Jesus himself says of those who followed his commandments, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25: 40). Likewise, he warns those who failed to follow his commandments, “’Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25: 45-46).
Today we look at a man who not only wanted to feed the hungry people of his country, he actually had the authority to do so. His name was Julius Nyerere.
In 1974, a new African nation named Tanzania had a serious famine. To help the people, the government decided to provide famine relief to the people by sending them food.
Unfortunately, the people of the nation were complaining that they were not receiving the food that the government said it was sending. When the president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, heard about the complaints, he decided to visit the storehouses of the National Milling Company where the food was being stored.
To do this, President Nyerere disguised himself as a beggar wearing raggedy clothes and an old hat. When he got to the main gate of the warehouse, no one recognized him. So, he walked through the gate and went directly to the office of the manager.
When the president got to the manager’s door, he knocked and yelled, “Hey, you people in there! Help me! I don’t have any food!”
The manager answered, “Stop bothering us, old man. We don’t have any food here. Go the market and buy some for yourself.” There is an African proverb that says, “A satisfied person does not know the hungry person,” and this was true in this case.
The president continued to cry out, but nobody paid any attention to him. The manager and his assistant were too busy with some local businessmen who were buying the famine relief food that was supposed to go to the Tanzanian people.
When his efforts failed to get the attention of the manager, President Nyerere opened the door and walked into the office. He took off his hat and made himself know. The manager and everyone else in the office were, needless to say, speechless.
After President Nyerere returned to the nation’s capital city of Dar es Salaam, there was an announcement that the manager of the National Milling Company, and some of his assistants, no longer had their jobs.
President Julius Nyerere, in case you did not know, today is known in the Catholic Church as Venerable Julius Nyerere.
Today we are called to serve God by serving others. Like the early members of our Church, we too are called to practice the Christian commandments such as to: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison, console those in sorrow, forgive our enemies, and a host of other Christian commandments. As Jesus told his followers, on how we put these commandments into practice will Jesus judge us.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we live out our Catholic Christian Faith.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of Christ the King, 2017.
Story source: Fr. Donald Sybertz, M.M. “President Nyerere Disguises Himself as a
Beggar,” in Joseph G. Healey (Ed.), Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004, p. 69.