THE ROYAL WE
The “majestic plural” is used by monarchs (including Popes until recent times). It does not imply that the person using it has haughty ideas about themselves. On the contrary, it signifies identification with the people whose monarch (or Pope) that person is. It doesn’t mean that the people are somehow “reduced” to their monarch, as if the monarch alone was important. Instead, its implication is that the monarch identifies with even the least of his or her subjects. At least, that’s the theory!
In the parable about the last judgment, Jesus describes himself as King. The earliest notions of royalty are linked with the divine. The king or queen was considered to be the image of God on earth, and thus God’s messenger to the people. Kings and queens in the Judeo-Christian tradition have always been anointed by a priest acting on God’s behalf to consecrate the monarch. Consecration signifies being set aside to carry out the tasks assigned by God. While the priest’s role as a consecrated person is to offer sacrifice and prayers to God on behalf of the people and to teach the Word of God, the role of the monarch is to rule the people in their temporal lives under the authority and law of God.
The monarch must himself be an example who epitomizes a life worthy of God in the world. In this, he draws his subjects closer to God, by word and rule, but especially by example. The more the monarch lives as God desires, the more the subjects will do likewise. This strengthens the “royal we” because the people themselves become more royal as they live like the monarch under God.
The last judgment separates those who truly belong to the royal we of Christ from those who do not. Identification with Christ is two-fold in the parable. First, the person suffering is identified with Christ (“I was hungry and you gave me to eat”). But the person who helps the suffering is also identified with Christ, because Christ took on and relieved the suffering of all of us. Christ’s help to us was self-sacrificing. In some ways, he abandons his royal “I” never mind his royal “We” in his incarnation and passion. As the perfect image of God and therefore perfect King, he shows that such perfection is not some trophy jealously guarded. No, his true royalty is in his self-surrender for our eternal benefit. His royalty is rooted in Agape.
The more selfless we are in attending to the dignity of others in action, the more we image Christ and, therefore, the more we become part of the divine “royal we.” Let us do it, however, not merely motivated by humanitarian concern but because of Christ.