“Whom do you serve?” Saruman asks the newly created Uruk-hai in a brief but powerful scene in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. This monster has been made for one purpose and its purpose does not favor the good. The orcs, goblins, and Uruk-hai exist to destroy life, to kill, separate, and mar (and fair warning for what is to come…this is only the beginning of the LotR references). There is no indication in Tolkien’s writing that any orc or related creature even has the capacity for good. But nearly every other creature, be it man, elf, hobbit, or dwarf, is able to choose the good. The symbolism of Middle Earth is replete with Biblical resonances that even a cinematic adaptation cannot erase. “Whom do you serve?” is not merely a question posed to an evil character; it is a question posed throughout Scripture. With today’s Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church reminds us that it is the fundamental question every Christian must answer.
Matthew’s story of the separation of the sheep and the goats both asks us who we serve and reminds us that the answer to that question has real-world consequences for us. When we say yes to serving God, when we claim Christ as our King and pledge our undying loyalty to Him, we are taking on the obligations of the Gospel. Whether Jesus is visible before our eyes or hidden in the disguise of the poverty, homelessness, illness, nakedness, imprisonment, or abandonment, we who claim to serve Christ must love our neighbors, care for the widows and orphans. In short, we cannot claim to love the God we cannot see if we do not love our brothers and sisters that we can see in front of our very eyes (cf. 1 John 4:20). Actions speak louder than words, it is said, and so this Gospel reminds us that the way we treat people reveals the truth of who we truly serve, and whose example we truly seek to follow. If Christ is our King, if it is His example we follow and His commands that we abide by, our thoughts, words, and deeds will reflect our faith, no matter who is standing before us.
While the fundamental question was put explicitly to an orc, we might find the one who wrestles with that question daily in the noble Faramir. Though all his best efforts seem to gain him nothing, he perseveres in doing what is good, in standing for the truth, in obedience. After killing a Haradrim soldier and capturing Frodo and Sam, he reflects “I wonder if he was evil at heart after all.” In the heat of battle, when he could be excused for having a low opinion of his enemy, Faramir finds room in his heart to ask if this man might not be good after all. It is an amazing charity toward one who otherwise would be passed by or stepped over. Saying this in front of two hobbits, small in stature and likely to go unnoticed, Sam and Frodo recognize Faramir’s goodness immediately, and Faramir of Gondor “proves his quality.” “Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Today’s solemnity places the fundamental question before us once again. Whom do you serve? Unlike the uruk-hai, we have the choice. The chance to prove our quality is given again and again. With every temptation to sin, we are asked who we serve. With every opportunity for charity, the question is repeated. With every prayer we offer and every virtuous choice we make, we affirm our answer. Let our answer to this fundamental question be unwavering, strong, and true. Let us hear those comforting words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Whom do you serve? I serve Jesus, Christ the Lord, the King of the universe!