Today, the Christian Church Universal celebrates Jesus Christ as King. The trouble is; Jesus never proclaimed that he was a “king,” at least not in the way that people wanted a king.
It would seem, according to Ezekiel that Jesus came as a servant and a shepherd. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was out among the people tending to their needs, calling the powers-that-be to justice—challenging them to stop filling their coffers with the hard-earned money of the people, and making sure that everyone, especially the least among them, had what was needed to simply live—a clarion call to each of us today.
Our need to proclaim Jesus as king goes back to Old or First Testament times when the people then begged God to give them a king and God acquiesced because they were, as Scripture says, “a stiff-necked people.” They constantly wanted, as we do, to make God into their own image rather than allowing God to be who God is. Even up until the crucifixion, the apostles, those who probably knew Jesus best, outside of his earthly parents perhaps, thought of him and wanted him, in fact, to be a king who would put down the Romans. They were thinking as humans think, not as God thinks, as Jesus once told Peter , but Jesus was calling them to so much more.
The gospel chosen for today from Matthew describing the last judgment is a good place to start in describing Jesus’ true presence on this earth. Exegetes tell us that our task as commanded by Jesus is not to simply do humanitarian service, but to work at getting to the heart of why people are hungry, thirsty, homeless, in prison, lost and alone. I believe many of us do the humanitarian work as is evidenced in the outreach activities of this parish and that is good, but Jesus, who was not a king in worldly terms, but a shepherd, servant, brother and friend, encourages us to indeed, get to the heart of the above problems—to see the faces of the people that go along with the statistics—searching out every lost one. A good case in point is that of the immigrants in our country, those who are afraid of deportation with the current administration in Washington and those still wanting to come here.
If we get caught up in celebrating Jesus as king that puts the focus on him to save us from whatever danger is out there, and then the attention is shifted from our need to be engaged with our world, as he was with his. As you recall from last weekend’s gospel; we are called to risk, which will sometimes bring discomfort, even be messy at times, but it is the way of Jesus, it is the way to peace wherein fear of judgment, in the end, is not a worry—in other words, if we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, judgment should not be something we have to be concerned about. Jesus came to show us the way by being a servant and the example he took for himself often was that of a humble shepherd, one who cared for sheep who would often wander like us, off, get lost and need to be found.
Even though most of us aren’t familiar with what it means to be a shepherd as none of us takes care of sheep, the tenets of such work can be carried forward—that of selflessness, patience, understanding and love. We know that shepherds, men and women were all about caring for their sheep, the good ones at least, bringing them to good sources of pasture and water, binding their wounds when they wandered off, when they were lost, the good shepherds would seek them out, basically keeping them safe.
This weekend calls us to see Jesus as our Brother and Friend—through the shepherd stories and the beautiful 23rd psalm. We learn that our God doesn’t want to lord it over us, as a king might, but to be among us, that our God, as the Good Shepherd, will go any distance to find us when we are lost and will always listen, will always understand, will always love us.
It is good for us to reflect on this most comforting message of our loving God as a follow-up to last weekend’s parable of the talents wherein some of us found the harsh words of the master in that story, hard to take—that the rich will be given more and that “the more” will be taken from those who have the least. This is definitely a scripture message that we don’t want to take literally, as it seems to fly in the face of what we believe Jesus usually preached—in fact, today’s gospel would seem a contradiction to that. Again, the context is so important.
In last week’s gospel, Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for the End Times and the harsh language was to impress upon them the importance of doing the right thing, now! Don’t wait, he was saying, in order to catch their attention.
A better way to look at the statement that the rich will be given more and the little the poor have, will be taken from them, is to get beyond the surface story told here. Reflecting on what Jesus is saying in Matthew’s account of the Last Judgment, we have to believe he means more than the idea given at first glance in the seemingly, “offending” statement of the rich having more at the expense of the poor.
When we do the right thing—that is, care for those with less and the other Corporal Works of Mercy, when we risk our safety at times for the good of others, when we use the gifts given to us, multiply “the master’s good” (as in last week’s story) in the world, we become richer as persons. When we “bury the master’s good,” our gifts, refuse to share in order to take care of ourselves, we become poorer, and the gifts given to us, do, in effect get “taken away.”
That friends, is the beauty, perhaps the frustration of Scripture—the Spirit of Jesus is always, “alive and well,” so to speak, calling us to be open to more, to stretch ourselves beyond what comes to us at first glance. Jesus, our brother and friend certainly doesn’t promise that it will be easy, it will in fact be messy, but in the end, it will be life-giving, all will be cared for. We will have created a world worthy of the God who created us in love, gave us Jesus in love and has called each of us to do the same.
So friends, today let us celebrate Jesus as our brother and friend, one of us, not one apart from us, which the title “king” seems to suggest. When we get familiar with Jesus as brother and friend and see, truly see how he was with others, it is much less easy to discount him or to not recognize him in the suffering humanity of our world. We move forward friends, as we complete the liturgical year this week and prepare for the next with the beginning of Advent next Sunday. May each of us be blessed as we share our gifts, our love, with our world.