|34TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Solemnity of the Lord Jesus Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
So as to be more receptive to God’s grace in our hearing the Word and celebrating the Eucharist, we might imagine Jesus pointing out to his disciples a flock of sheep with a tending shepherd feeding some, caring for another and watching that they all stay together.
He turns to them and relates this single shepherd to their individual and collective work of caring gently for those who would follow him through their living and teaching his ways. They begin to understand that they are being called to a specific service of compassion especially for the marginal.
We are finishing the liturgical year, not with parables which are
open to various interpretations, but a quite direct summation of Jesus’
whole life, mission and teachings. We need not ask for understanding
these readings, but for courage to face their invitations. We can pray
for the desire to be unselective in our caring, curing and reaching out
beyond the false sense of self containment.
It is both the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, and our celebration of Christ as some kind of king. In our First Reading, the Prophet Ezekiel speaks the word of the Lord to the kings and leaders of Israel. They have fattened themselves on the finest lambs, but have neglected the hunger of the Lord’s flock. They have found themselves rich and comfortable while the flock has strayed. Enough is enough, and the Lord declares that he himself will be the shepherd and send them a leader who will guide and care for all the people of Israel. Those who belong to the Lord will find rest by being found, and those judged to be not of the flock will be separated.
The Gospel reading for today is referred to often as “The Last Judgement.” The Shepherd-King sits in his glory and is pictured as a judge. His glory is not so much that he has the power to separate sheep from goats, but that he has been seen embodied in the lives of those in jail, in the hospitals, on the streets of the homeless and in the straits of need.
This is not so much the final judgement as the climax of the incarnational drama. Jesus began the rising action with his simple entrance into human flesh and that in the secrecy of poverty. Interest is sustained as he more and more identifies himself with the sick, the needy and the unpretentious. Jesus has been creating scenes of conflict with those who were the “shepherds” of God’s holy people. He has confronted their inattentiveness to those” little ones.” This final scene has two important parts. Jesus indwells in the blessedness of the poor. Those who are true followers of Jesus care for Jesus in their caring for the poor.
The Incarnation is more than Jesus’ having taken human flesh once in a historical moment, but that he continues to take flesh in the thirsty, hungry, homeless, imprisoned and lost. For Matthew, the glory is not as judge, but as a real presence in the unsuspected, unexpected, unattractive to the pretences. Kings parade with great publicity; Jesus picks his way through hospital wards, prison walls and knocks on doors to see if anybody can recognize him and tend him.
There is in Christian spirituality a certain privacy or self-perfectionism which revolves around keeping the Ten Commandments and doing those little things which make us feel good about ourselves. Self-involvement we might call it. The lambs who enter the kingdom of today’s Gospel are not so lily-white, unblemished and bouncy. They have the nicks and dents of human interaction. They have the dirt and smell of the streets as well as the stains of trying and not succeeding.
The goats have cared well for themselves and see Jesus now for the first time and him as judge only. The King became poorer than was acceptable. The drama has had several surprises. Jesus was born in a most unkingly manner. How he remains is equally surprising, because he chooses the unlikely people to take for his kingdom. For us who want to also be of his kingdom on earth, for us who want to be “in that number” when the lambs go marching in, we have to have a deeper sight-in. If we celebrate Jesus’ presence in the Word and in the Eucharist, then we also are invited to see him where he has taken up his throne, “among the poorest, the lowliest and the lost.”
“The Lord will reign for ever and will give his people the gift of peace.” Psalm 29
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