“Termination Syndrome” is the general description of the sadness one feels when one has not completed to one’s satisfaction all that one would have wished as a project comes to an end. Teams, coaches, teachers, even students can find a wishfulness as the season or semester ends. There was always more to do than energy to do it. “Somehow I thought I’d be better.”
We are, in this Eucharistic celebration, ending the 2010/2011 Liturgical Year or Learning Season. Next Sunday begins the new learning cycle and its project will aim to pick us up and take us along a little farther toward buying in to God’s Kingdom a little more. It will be the first Sunday of our experiencing the revised liturgical texts as well. Who ever said the mass is boring?
As we prepare for this celebration of Christ the King and the last Sunday of Ordinary time, we might pray with one face looking back at what we have been receiving these past weeks and months from the living out of our liturgical mission. We can pray looking forward with hope to what God is offering us with the surprises which come from that same living of the Eucharist. Who ever said that life is boring?
The first ten verses of the chapter from which our First Reading is taken, describe the reasons why Ezekiel is asked to speak the words we hear today. The shepherds of Israel were charged with taking care of the flock, the people of Israel. Instead they have been feeding themselves on the fattest lambs and clothing themselves in the finest wool and neglecting to care for the weak, hungry, injured and lost of the flock. They were given titles of honor as priests, royalty and judges, but they took care of themselves which now gives them the title of shame.
The prophet speaks the boasting of God that God alone will care for the scattered and forgotten. God will find, feed and comfort, but to the sleek and fat ones God will judge and separate as one separates sheep from the rams and goats. Jeremiah and other prophets have used this same pastoral image for a God Who tends kindly, verses a group of leaders who had abandoned their caring-calling for lives of self-serving. It is within this very context of God’s continuing the shepherding of the people of Israel that the shepherd David comes to be King and from his line; Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd.
The Gospel for this liturgy has been called often, The Last Judgment. In a sense this is adequate. More deeply it is the continuation of the judgments which humans of every race and age have made about their involvements with “those others”. It is also a dramatic image of exactly what Jesus considers “holiness” to be. It is an image also of the reality of “eternal life”. The Gospel then has many aspects.
We have heard the term, “Investment Policy”. There is the more conservative, low-risk practice and the high-risk, roll-the-dice and go-for-the-gold way one can win or lose quickly. We heard recently in the Gospel about the talents being used wisely and the fellow who buried his talent in the ground for fear. Jesus extends this image of investing here at the end of His public life and final semester-class on what He came to tell us about ourselves.
In reading or hearing these verses, there really are not many questions one has about the meaning of His words. There is the big question though about whether we are the goats or the sheep. The meaning is clear, but we can wonder if we have done enough. There are still sick, hungry, people in prison and the homeless. These are difficult questions and we have such limited personal resources.
A “vest” - the sleeveless-kind of sweater - comes from the Latin word, Vestis meaning clothing. This Gospel text is about how Jesus has literally invested Himself, taking upon Himself the clothes of the clotheless, the hungry, the sick, those in prison. There is the old Latin saying, Vistis viurm facit. “Clothes make the man.” We can be fooled, dazzled, by mere appearances of wealth or poverty. Jesus states directly that He is within the clothing and so has literally in-vested Himself in the very persons whose exterior can dissuade our attention and concern.
The other important aspect of this “investment-policy” program is the invitation to the followers of Jesus to bank on and bank in the after-life, or the next life. The interest we place in the poor and abandoned now will pay eternal interest after our few moments on this earth. The tension is whether we retain our gains now, or distribute what we have received now and risk the loss for the bonuses later. Jesus states clearly that there is a timeless then of His Kingdom which stands opposed to the importance of our own little kingdoms. In a way Jesus is reminding His followers that the only things they can take into the next form of life are those things they have shared with the sisters and brothers in whom He continues to invest.
This is the final exam of the liturgical semester. From the poverty of His conception and birth through the liturgical lessons of the seasons and Ordinary Time, we have been presented with lessons for our heads and hearts designed to help us say “Yes!” to His invitations to our self-surrenders and risings to His new ways of life. Do not worry about whether you will be a sheep or goat at the end. Be more attentive to the invitations to touch and be touched by “those others”.
“The Lord will reign for ever and will give His people the gift of peace.” Ps. 29, 10
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