Christ the King: Nov. 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17 1Cor 15: 20-26, 28 Matthew 25:31-46
The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want!
On this Sunday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday this is probably not what our consumerist society would want to hear: There is nothing I shall want! Interesting, however, to speculate on what would our celebration of the Incarnate Word this Christmas be like if we let this line be our mantra throughout Advent. Think about it!
Last Sunday, our Preacher forewarned that today FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE would be a celebration with fireworks, bands, and a lot of hoopla. However, the Scripture that the Church has chosen for today does not lean in that direction. All three readings confront us not with the love of power, but the power of Love! We think of Palm Sunday and realize that riding into town on a donkey with some palm branches and a few hosannas in the air is about as much hoopla as this particular King Jesus desires. Besides, in the near East a good king was often referred to as a shepherd, one who takes responsibility to care for and protect his flock, each of them, all of them – especially those most in need.
In the Gospel of John Jesus claims: I AM the bread of life; the light of the world, the Way, the truth, and the life; the Resurrection and the life; and, yes, I AM the Good Shepherd. He does not say, I AM the King of the Universe. Jesus does not deny his kingship. He is comfortable naming the truth of his authority. “You call me Lord and Master and so I am.” But this Lord and Master kneels to lovingly wash feet. In doing so, he redefines power. As the Sufi poet Hafiz says: “The Beloved sometimes wants to do us a great favor: Hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out.” No, Jesus was all about loving relationships, not titles. For many of us, it would be hard to imagine having a King as an intimate friend; yet that is what Jesus longed for: “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd is not about the love of power; No, he “emptied himself” that the power of Love could become Incarnate.
As in Ezechiel’s time, this past year has been marked by distrust, disdain, destruction, division in our country and world. So often these past few months I’ve thought of the image from Isaiah: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each has turned to his own way.” I was moved anew by a little old paper back, A Shepherd Looks at Ps 23 by Phillip Keller1. Keller was born in South Africa and worked very hard in the Depression Years to save enough money to purchase 30 sheep. He looked at them with pride – and a little trepidation. Keller’s book acquaints us with the full responsibility, the commitment, the particulars, the worry, and the joy of being a good shepherd.
Keller said: “They require endless attention and meticulous care.” Although, we may not want to admit it, so often it does sound like us, doesn’t it, needing endless attention and meticulous care?
A good shepherd takes inventory of his flock often, and if one is missing, the shepherd goes hurriedly in search of the lost and possibly injured sheep. This is similar to our Good Shepherd – always pursuing us with grace. As Anne Lamott put it: “I don’t understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are, and doesn’t leave us where it found us.”
“The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. It is really a claim of trust in the Shepherd’s care. It doesn’t mean, of course, that there will never be a lack or need, but no matter what – ill health, loss of a loved one, government in disarray, injustice and irreverence, a suffering creation – there is the assurance that the Shepherd is there with rod to protect and staff to guide. The Shepherd knows that he must move the sheep to higher ground as the seasons change. To get them there, they must pass through the deep valleys that can prove very dark, dangerous predators, and frightening sudden storms. It is in these valleys, as well, however, that the shepherd knows there is fertile land and fresh water. Trusting in the presence and protection of the Shepherd, sheep are able to pass THROUGH the dark valley to the mountain top. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me”. Perhaps another mantra for our Advent 2017?
Yes, the good shepherd will lead the flock to the mountain top, the mesa, as they call it, – or table – where there is peace, comfort, nourishment; such as this Eucharistic Table today. With an attitude of gratitude, we go forth on this feast to follow the path of our Good Shepherd and lovingly care for others who are hungry or thirsty, help find hats, mittens, scarves, winter coats, for those who are in need, to welcome our brothers and sisters, and to visit those who are confined. Then as Scripture tells us, “surely goodness and kindness will follow us all the days of our life”, when there will finally be firecrackers, a band, a lot of hoopla and, yes, Alleluias! Happy Feast Day!
1 Keller, W. Phillip. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Zondervan; Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007.
Joan Delaplane, O.P.
Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17 1Cor 15: 20-26, 28 Matthew 25:31-46
The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI (1857-1939). It was placed in the liturgical calendar as the last Sunday of the Church year. It was to remind us that Jesus was our King, although not a familiar role in the United States. We were to remember that the Kingdom of God was at hand. The Gospels at the liturgical year’s end were readings of judgment.
Today we name the feast: Christ the King of the Universe. Today this feast suggests the fulfillment of God’s creation within the cosmic Christ. The cosmos is now a study of great interest. We know through science that our solar system is only one of many. We have seen earth from space and we are filled with awe as we realize that we are simply one “dot” in this expanding universe. We are flooded with telescopic images of stars, this colors our view of what we celebrate.
Today’s Gospel still portrays the last judgment, but upon reflection we see that like all Gospel stories it tells us of God’s hope for our fulfillment in love. The Good News is that God shares our life, is one with us, and is continually guiding us (gracing us) to become more like God.
A number of years ago I read in one of Ronald Rolheiser books that as Christians we are to pray aware that God is incarnate, we are to remember that when we say that God is love we mean that God is also community, family, neighbor, nation. To pray as a Christian, to act as a Christian community, is to embrace and find in the ordinary the presence of God. When we relate and reach out to our neighbor we are letting our God touch and encourage him or her. In one example, Rolheiser calls us the “hem” of Jesus’ garment.
I was impressed by the breadth of Father Rolheiser’s view of incarnation and I was stretched by his definition of the Christian Community. But today’s Gospel seems to expand that mandate of love. It proclaims: whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for ME. This message is “beyond the hem” – this message speaks to the oneness of all creation within God – you do for ME. It is sobering to remember that creation is so caught up in God’s creative, incarnational presence that my actions are direct expressions of my relationship with God.
This implied intimacy gives us pause. It is both a challenge and a gift because it promises us that being Godlike is within our grasp. So, celebrating Jesus as King, as the cosmic Christ, speaks to the fulfillment of creation that is continually being re-created and held in existence by the breath of God. We are encouraged to recognize our God in every moment and in all that exists. All is sacred, all is holy ground. Whew, love isn’t easy but God is in our midst.
Karen Rossman, OP