The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
King of the Universe
November 23, 2014
The liturgy now sets Christ’s kingship in an eschatological context, as does
the Bible. His enthronement at the Ascension is the opening act of his final eschatological reign, and his continued
heavenly rule between the Ascension and his return marks the progressive defeat of the powers of evil. For he must
reign until he has “put all his enemies under his feet” (Second Reading).
Reading I: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
There is a close connection between the images of king and
shepherd, a connection presumably going back to the figure
Ezekiel prophesied during the Babylonian exile. In the earlier part of chapter
34, he delivers a strong indictment against the pre-exilic kings of Judah who
had been false shepherds. Because of this, YHWH himself will henceforth take
over the shepherding of this people (Ez 34:15). YHWH will seek out the lost and bring
back the strayed (Ez 34:12, 16), an allusion to Israel’s return from exile and
resettlement in the Holy Land (see Ez 34:13, omitted here).
The verses suggest
that Ezekiel envisaged a theocracy, for the monarchy was not to be restored.
on in verses Ez 34:23-24, however, YHWH says that YHWH will set over them David, who
will be a shepherd and prince among them.
The apparent contradiction is resolved if the Davidic king is the agent and
representative of YHWH, a concept that carries over into the messianic hope.
same prima facie contradiction occurs in the gospels. In the Synoptic
parable of the lost
sheep, which is undoubtedly authentic to Jesus himself, it is YHWH who seeks
out the lost sheep, though he does so implicitly through Jesus. But in the
Johannine allegory of the Good Shepherd, Christ is the Good Shepherd, not alongside
nor in addition to YHWH, but as the representative of the Father. It is in
Jesus Christ, therefore, that the prophecy of Ezekiel comes finally to rest.
The last verse introduces the note of judgment. The shepherd will distinguish
between sheep and goats. This links the First Reading with the Gospel (see the
Responsorial Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
different arrangement of verses from this psalm was used
on the fourth Sunday of Lent this year. Here the psalm is
much more suitable, for it forms an obvious response to the
passage from Ezekiel.
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
problems are raised in this passage from Corinthians, such as the concept
of Christ as the first fruits, the Adam/Christ
typology, the importance of “order” in the resurrection
process, and its relation to the Corinthians’ gnostic view that
Christians were already raised. But today’s theme, the kingship
of Christ, as well as the caption, suggests that we should
concentrate on 1Cor 15:24: “Then comes the end, when he
hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every
ruler and every authority and power.”
One fact calls for comment, and two problems for discussion.
The fact in question is that, according to Paul, Christ’s reign
is to be of limited duration. He reigns “until ...”
It is destined to be replaced by the kingship of God’s very self when Christ delivers
the kingdom to the Father.
The first of the problems is the period covered by Christ’s reign. I Cor 15:25 is
one of the passages to which “chiliasm” or “millenarianism” appeals.
Its chief basis is Rev 20. The book of Revelation speaks of a first and a second
resurrection. At the first resurrection, only the faithful Christians will arise to reign a thousand years with Christ (the millennium). This is to be followed
by a second, or general, resurrection. 1 Cor 15:26 is then interpreted by means
of Rev 20. This interpretation is untenable for two reasons: first, it takes
the events of the book of Revelation to be successive rather than as varying
descriptions of the same event; second, it allegorically harmonizes Revelation
and 1 Corinthians.
It seems quite clear from 1 Corinthians that the reign of Christ
is inaugurated with the resurrection-ascension (1 Cor 15:20, 27)
and is destined to last until the Second Coming (1 Cor 15:23-24a).
The kingdom of Christ is thus coterminous with the period
of the church. “In chronological respect (not in spatial)
the kingly rule of Christ and the Church completely coincide” (O.
Cullmann). It is important to note that Christ’s kingdom
is a period of perpetual warfare with the “enemies” that
will still be under his feet (1 Cor 15:25). “The present kingdom
of Christ is not a period of peace, but of glorious warfare” (H.
The second problem is the idea of Christ’s delivery of the
kingdom to the Father and his subjection to the Father. What can
this mean? It means that during the period
of Christ’s kingdom, the period of the church, God acts toward the world not
directly but through Christ. That is to say, every act that God does toward
the world or the church is an extension of the act that accomplished once and
for all the history of Jesus of Nazareth.
But after the redemptive work of
Christ has been completed at the consummation, God’s relationship with the
redeemed universe will become a direct one.
“Now we see God and experience
His action through the God-man who represents Him to us; then Christ will have
brought us to the Father; we shall enjoy the Beatific Vision, and immediate
union with God himself. ... God will be all in all, not only in Christians
but in the whole realm that Christ restored to him.”*
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
This pericope is often called the “parable” of the
sheep and goats or of the Last Judgment. But such a designation is inaccurate. Except for the comparison in Mt 25:32-33,
the whole story remains on the level of direct description. Its literary genre is that of an apocalyptic revelation. But
there is a history behind the tradition. The pericope is a combination of four elements:
1. Mt 25:32-33, the simile of the sheep and goats.
2. A series of sayings about the reception accorded to Jesus’ disciples (Mt 25:35-39, 40b, 41-45).
3. The combination of 1 and 2 to provide an allegorical interpretation of the simile.
4. Introduction (Mt 25:31) and conclusion (Mt 25:46) and the placement of the whole in its Matthean setting.
We will discuss each of these elements in turn.
1. The simile of the sheep and goats. Following J. A. T. Robinson, we reconstruct this as follows:
It is with the kingdom of God as with a shepherd who separates the sheep
from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
There is no reason why this should not be an authentic parable of Jesus. There is nothing allegorical about it. The kingdom is compared, not
to a shepherd nor to the sheep and goats, but to the act of separation.
The story is similar to the parables of the wheat and weeds (Mt 13:24-30) and of the good and bad fish (Mt 13:47-50), both undoubtedly authentic parables of
Jesus. The message is characteristic of Jesus’ eschatology: acceptance or rejection at the end. It is a story taken from Palestinian life.
During the daytime the sheep and goats are all mixed up. At night the shepherd separates them because the
goats need shelter from the cold, whereas the sheep are hardy enough to stay out all night
(J. Jeremias). Since sheep are white and goats black, their separation can imply an act of judgment, enabling the parable to be applied to
the kingdom of God in a way characteristic of Jesus.
Acceptance or rejection of this message will determine which side one will be on at the Last Judgment—among
the saved or the condemned. The final separation is being anticipated in Jesus’ ministry.
2. The sayings.
I was hungry, and you gave me food,
I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.
When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing?
When was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?
Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these ... you did it to me.
Like other critics, T. W. Manson commented on the whole pericope that “it
contains features of such startling originality that it is difficult to credit them to anyone but the Master himself.”
But, as J. A. T. Robinson has rightly observed, when critics talk like that, they are really speaking of these sayings,
not the whole pericope. It is these that have the ring of the “Master himself.” But what do they mean?
They are commonly used by church preachers and by secular humanitarians as a piece of ethical teaching, inculcating concern for the victims
of famine and oppression. God forbid that we should deny the necessity of such concern.
But we must question whether this is the true exegesis of this passage, and whether therefore it should be so used homiletically.
It is closely akin to Mk 9:37 par.; Mk 9:41; and Lk 12:8f. par. (Q); cf. Mk 8:38 par.
Comparison with these sayings shows that the passage under examination, far from being a humanitarian lesson, is an assertion of
the “shaliach” principle, according to which the acceptance or rejection of an accredited
agent involves the acceptance or rejection of the sender, and the further assertion that
acceptance or rejection of the accredited agent, like acceptance or rejection of the sender, will be validated at the Last Judgment.
The life situation in which this passage would have been spoken by Jesus would therefore have been when he was sending his disciples
out on a mission.
3. That this was how Matthew himself understood these sayings is indicated
by his addition of “who are members of my family” (RSV: “my brethen”) to the words “one of the least of these” (Mt 25:40, not in 25:45).
“Brethren” in Matthew always means disciples. Hunger, thirst, etc., symbolize the weakness and poverty of the disciples,
and the relief given to them symbolizes the acceptance or rejection of them and their message, exactly as in the saying about the
cup of cold water in Mk 9:41
This interpretation will disappoint, perhaps even anger many, but we are responsible for a genuine exegesis of the text,
not to make it say what we want to hear.
In the post-Easter church, the shepherd is equated with a king (Mt 25:40), that is, God. Thus, the parable became an allegory of the Last Judgment.
4. Finally, the evangelist takes up the allegorically interpreted parable and inserts the apocalyptic coloring, especially in Mt 25:31 and 25:41.
As a result, the king of Mt 25:40 became identified, somewhat unusually and awkwardly, with the Son of Man of Mt 25:31. Matthew probably
also inserted “all the nations” in Mt 25:32, equating the judged with the nations to which the disciples will be
sent to preach the gospel in all the world (Mt 28:16-20).
quote from H. L. Goudge’s commentary on 1 Corinthians (Westminster
Commentaries, 1915, fourth edition revised). I would call
attention to this Anglican scriptural scholar, whose work
antedated biblical theology in Germany. Goudge was Regius
Professor in the University of Oxford between the World
Wars. His work has been much neglected, even by Anglicans.
Here is a subject for a master’s thesis!
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.
rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
|Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition),
*Webmaster Note: Commentary on the Responsorial Psalm
is from the 1984 Revised Edition, p. 96.
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