We do well to further examine a quality of Christ’s kingship mentioned in yesterday’s sermon notes, namely that he is a “concealed” King. In the gospel, both the saved and condemned are surprised and wonder when they encountered Jesus at all, whether as hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick or in prison. He replies, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt 25:41). So, although concealed, Jesus says he was, quite present in those who were in such need.
To examine and further understand the concealment of Jesus, consider another gospel passage. In the afternoon of the resurrection, two disciples are on the road to Emmaus and, as they journey and discuss the events of passiontide, Jesus joins them but they do not recognize him. Along the way he sets their hearts afire ass he explains the Scriptures. Having reached the house where they were going he entered the house and, as the text says,
While He was reclining at the table with them, He took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus— and He disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)
So, even as they recognized Jesus who had been concealed or hid from their earthly eyes, he vanishes from their sight. It is as if to say to them and us, “You will no longer see me in the way to which you are accustomed. Now you will see me in the Sacraments, in the Sacred Liturgy and wherever two or three are gathered in my name.”
Our usual way of seeing, at least in the physical sense is that light rays reach our retina and are somehow decoded by the brain. Jesus teaches we will not see him in this way. Rather we must learn to encounter him at the Holy Liturgy as he enters, clothed in priestly garments, blesses us, speaks a word to us, and feeds us with his very Body and Blood. We must learn to hear his voice in the Scriptures proclaimed and when he speaks to us and ministers to us in the Sacraments: This is my Body….this is my Blood…. I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… I absolve you from your sins… and so forth. It is Christ concealed in the person of the priest and under various signs whom we encounter.
And though he is concealed from earthly eyes, he expects us to recognize him by the eyes of the faith. St Thomas Aquinas wrote:
I devoutly adore you, hidden deity, Who are truly hidden beneath these appearances. My whole heart submits to You, And in contemplating You, it surrenders itself completely.
Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you, But hearing suffices firmly to believe. I believe all that the Son of God has spoken; There is nothing truer than this word of Truth.
On the cross only the divinity was hidden, But here the humanity is also hidden Yet believing and confessing both, I ask for what the penitent thief ask (Adoro Te Devote vv. 1-3)
Again, though concealed from physical or earthly eyes Jesus expects us to recognize him here nonetheless. St Paul says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7). We also read: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1). And thus, though concealed, we are expected to find Christ in the Holy Liturgy and the Sacraments.
In the Gospel from this past Sunday Jesus teaches much the same thing. Though concealed from our earthly eyes, he expects us to recognize his presence in the needy, the poor, the sick and the suffering. To consistently fail to give care to the needy is a damnable sin. Not only do we sin by failing them, we also sin by failing to recognize Christ in them. Both groups, those on the right and those on the left are surprised that it was Christ himself they served or failed to serve. But the teaching of this gospel is that, henceforth, we are expected to recognize him. Though he is concealed in some sense, it cannot be that way for us. With the eyes of faith we are required to understand that it is He who we are also seeing. Thus, St. John admonishes us, For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)