Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Shepherd King and The Surprise of the Righteous Sheep and the Clueless Goats

The Shepherd King


The Surprise of the Righteous Sheep and the Clueless Goats

The last Feast of the Liturgical Year is the Solemnity of the Feast of Christ the King.

This past week one of my students asked, quite sincerely, “What is Christ the King?” The student was asking, “Why do we call Christ a King? All of his actions, deeds, words, and demeanor, and even in the manner of his death, he does not appear as a king at al according to worldly standards. It was an excellent question and is worth our time to ponder.

In the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel that the Church proposes for our consideration on today’s feast, the prophet proclaims: Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them, I will seek out the lost and forsaken, I will bring back the strays, bind up the injured and heal the sick.

In the familiar Psalm, we sang, The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

So, what will determine whether we dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come?

Well, for the answer to that, all we need do is look at the gospel today. In fact, this is the very last parable Jesus tells from Matthews’s Gospel. And interestingly it is about the Second Coming of the Son of Man. Also take note that there is no mention of a Rapture. When Christ comers again, he will come again. He won’t come once only to take a few to heaven, but he will come here and usher in his kingdom, where he will come once to judge the living and the dead.

So we have work to do. And instead of looking for the Anti-Christ, we need to be looking for Christ. But where do we see Christ? Certainly we Hear Christ in the Word of God, especially the Gospels. He is also present in the person of the Priest or Deacon when he celebrates Mass and the other Sacraments, Certainly, in a very unique way, Christ is present in the Eucharist. And, yet, if we can see and recognize Christ’s presence in the Scripture, Sacraments, and ministers, we must also be able to recognize his presence in those most in need of mercy, those most unworthy of our love. For it was to all of us, including these least ones, that Christ came!

Saint John assures us that if we claim that we love God, but fail to love our neighbor we are deceiving ourselves. He writes: If we cannot love the neighbor we do see, then how can we say we love God whom we cannot see? If we fail to love our neighbor then we fail to love God. It’s pretty simple.

Or is it?

He is a good shepherd – The Good Shepherd! But a shepherd’s job is a thankless and dirty job. Poor shepherds have to tromp around in sheep dung all day. It’s not the most glamorous job – let alone vocation.

Yet Christ Jesus has humbled himself to be our shepherd. He endures all of our dung and ornery ways. So we must learn to be like the good shepherd. And this shepherd is a king in disguise!

We too must be kings and queens, princes and princesses in disguise as poor shepherds, willing to search out the lost andforsaken and carry the poor, blind, lame, soiled, and cold lambs upon our shoulders and restore them to the fold of the Good Shepherd, which is His Church.

He doesn’t even ask us to do things perfectly or in a heroic way, but to do simple things in a charitable way: Things that we all can do in our ordinary life. Who among us cannot do some of these things, “you welcomed me, you visited me, you gave me food and drink” or other similar things?

‘I needed to talk and you listened to me. I was worried and you comforted me. I was frazzled and you calmed me down. I was blind, and you helped me. I was poor and you stood up for me. I could not understand and you shared your knowledge with me. The list goes on….

All we need is to become sensitive to the needs of those whom God has sent into our lives. This is the real challenge of our own personal life and of our society. Simple gifts of hospitality! Seeking Christ in the face of the poor and unwanted.

But here’s the catch: those who were considered righteous or holy were surprised to discover that the deeds of mercy that they performed for the poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, or imprisoned were actually being done for the Son of Man! And they are dubly surprised that they have received eternal life! And the goats, those who did not tend to the needs of others, were surprised to discover that they neglected Christ in need.

As Saint Paul wrote, many, while ministering to the needy, have unknowingly been ministering to angels in disguise.

We are subjects of a Great Shepherd King who is the God of Surprise. God sneaks up on us in people we least expect. Be ready, for you know neither the day nor the hour when our Lord will surprise us.

[May we be known as his loyal sheep who heed the Shepherd’s voice by loving our neighbor. In doing this we will follow Him into the pasture of Eternal Life. Amen.]

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