This will be the last Sunday of the Church year. Next week we will begin the new year, starting with Advent—our waiting time for the birth of Jesus. So, on this last Sunday of the year, the Church appropriately overviews the career of Christ the King.
Here is the story of this king of ours.
God has continually sought out his people throughout history, inviting them to a covenant* relationship. But the “shepherds of Israel” let God’s sheep scatter over the face of the earth. They actually ate the sheep (God’s people), feeding themselves instead of feeding them (See Ezekiel 34: 1-10). So God said the words of the First Reading: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. The injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal.”
God’s care for his people is exquisite, and it is the foundation of all our belief. He shepherds us today in the same way.
The Responsorial Psalm, “The Lord is My Shepherd,” is used here simply as a reply to the First Reading. If I may paraphrase it: “We sheep understand that God is shepherding us as he promised. Goodness and kindness are all around us. God lets us walk beside restful waters, through green pastures. We are filled with thanks.”
People of different generations sometimes call God’s love to mind and sometimes simply ignore it. The ones who ignore it fill their lives with other gods—whichever seem most attractive. Idols, these are called.
So, in the Second Reading, St. Paul tells us about Christ, who is God made flesh as shepherd. Although death and sorrow and sin had been on the rampage, Christ brought the First Reading’s light and peace and wholeness.
Then, in a parable, the Gospel tells us who will receive this light and peace. Not everyone. Some people have acted as perfect goats instead.
Which are you? The standard is extremely clear. Have you cared for the hungry? Have you given water to the thirsty? What about welcoming the stranger, giving clothes to those who have none, and what about visiting people in prison? This is what God did in the First Reading. It is what Jesus did in his life on earth. It is the loving duty he has entrusted to us who are his body, his band of shepherds. If you have acted in this way, then you are one of the sheep who have received Christ's love and who are very grateful.
But maybe you or I have never taken time to care for Christ’s least brother or sister.
Maybe we are the goats.
If we continue that way, we should not be surprised when God says at the end of time, “You never did pass on to others the care I gave to you. You did not let me into your life. If you had, your gratitude would have led you to others! I desire to shepherd you even now, but all I can do is affirm the choice you have made with your life. You have chosen to live without me, your God, and I will respect that choice.”
This action of God shows the way a real king acts. He respects and honors his subjects’ needs and desires.
We have to ask ourselves in freedom whether we are letting God’s love into us now.
*Covenant: a formal alliance or agreement made by God with a religious community or with humanity in general.
John Foley S. J.
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