Last Sunday after Pentecost: The 'Reign' of Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace!
Gospel Matthew 25:31-46
“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Well the meeting of the world leaders in Brisbane has ended. The pressing international issues seem to be somewhat unaddressed. We want these issues addressed, but it doesn't look like much is going to change it seems a case of “Same ole, same ole.” Some people claim the most efficient government is a benign dictatorship. Such a ruler, with people’s best interests at heart, can cut through indifference, selfishness and powerful interests to get things done. A benevolent dictator can act quickly to the benefit of needy people. We know such dictatorships do not exist. Even if such a leader did exit with the best of intentions, eventually power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Self-interest soon takes over and the people’s best interests are pushed aside. In this light we can say that only God is the “benign ruler” who really has our best interests at heart and will DO something about them.
This is the last Sunday of the church's liturgical year and it sounds a triumphant but not a triumphalist note. So we celebrate and remember that there is no power that can match the loving power of God. Our reading from Ezekiel (34: 11-17) is about God not as King, but as Shepherd. For Israel, God was envisioned as a Shepherd who would protect, lead and defend the people with gentle strength and compassion. Ezekiel was sent by God to condemn the kings of Israel who were the opposite of 'good shepherds'. They were more like 'selfish dictators' who would do anything to stay in power. As a result of their evil thirst for power the flock of Israel had been scattered and taken into Babylonian exile. God had Israel’s best interests at heart and promises to rescue the people from their exile. Not only will God bring them back, but will continue to help them. God rebukes Israel’s leaders and promises to take charge and tend to Israel’s future, promising to bring the flock back from exile. God’s help will not end there, but will continue to care for them by raising up a 'just shepherd'. God is guaranteeing to DO something to help them.
Matthew’s Gospel (25: 31-46) gives us the last of Jesus' parables, which describes the 'last judgement'. God has fulfilled the promise God made to Israel in Jesus - the long-anticipated Shepherd King. He (the Son of Man) takes his place on the throne of judgment surrounded by his court - a lot like the ancient Near Eastern courts. He now shares his glory with his loyal followers. This is not the typical distribution of treasures and bounty to people of rank. The loyal servants of this King are those whose deeds matched the deeds of the King; who acted with compassion towards the poor, sick, homeless, prisoners, and strangers - all those whom Jesus calls 'the least'. This scene should not come as a surprise to Jesus’ hearers who knew the prophetic tradition. The Shepherd of Israel, as described by Ezekiel, will be concerned about “the lost... the strayed… the injured… the sick.” It is striking that Jesus in the parable does not note how many times one has celebrated the liturgy. His primary concern are the deprived of the kingdom. If our liturgical celebration is authentic it should help us to see with compassion the needy and be strengthen to DO something for them. All the baptised, are called to this mission. If we fail to be these signs we cannot claim any special privilege or membership in the kingdom. It is clear from the parable that there are many who will have never heard of Christ who discover they have been part of God’s kingdom, because they acted mercifully towards God’s favourites - the poor.
Matthew has provided a vision of what Christ’s true Church looks like. This parable is stark and should rouse our attention. Are we living a gospel of convenience? Have we just defined our religious observance by what we do each Sunday in church? The parable makes it clear that worshiping Jesus in church and saying prayers at home must be accompanied by devotion to him in the world. This parables shows us the priorities of Jesus. We can tell how we are doing as individual Christians and as a Church by whom we love. God loves all people and we, who were created in God’s image, must be willing to share that love with all, especially those who are not able to return that love. In the parable, those who are welcomed into the kingdom did not recognise they were DOING anything for Christ or acting in his name. They shared what they had with those who had nothing. We all know people like that. They may not be in the pews with us on Sunday, but they are with us making sandwiches for street people on Monday. Still, it helps to be
|What soever you do to the least of these my little ones|