November 20, 2011 - Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King'

Today's Readings

The Lord is our shepherd, which sounds so nice, what with the verdant pastures and restful waters. It is nice too. He will seek the lost and bring back the strayed. He will bind up the injured and heal the sick. He will destroy the sleek and the strong.

That last part might seem strange. What is the point of all the care that the Lord is showing to his sheep if he will destroy the sleek and the strong? I would have thought that the Lord wanted us to be sleek and strong. If we look back though, before this reading, we will see how these sheep got to be so strong and fat. These sheep were also shepherds, they were the ones to whom God had entrusted the care of his flock, but instead of feeding the sheep, they fed themselves. Their strength comes at the expense of the others’ weakness. They are fat because the others are starving.

It is written that he will shepherd them with justice. Clearly they were not just to the others whom they left to starve, but they also were not just to themselves. The other sheep merely suffered the consequences of laziness and greed. These sheep had to suffer being lazy and greedy.

God will feed these sheep with justice. He will destroy them, but after the destruction they will be improved. The fat and strong consider returning to where everyone else is destruction. A rich man would say he lost everything if he were left with only a few thousand dollars in savings, but there are people who would be so happy to have a few thousand dollars in savings. So when God destroys the independent and the fat, it means that he will make them lean and dependent on him again.

The Gospel today is the judgment of the nations, of the Gentiles. Gentile meant someone who was outside of God’s family, so it is reasonable to conclude that this judgment is the judgment of all the non-Christians. We Christians will be judged, as Jesus says elsewhere, by whether we have forgiven our brothers and sisters from our hearts, but those who do not know Jesus will be judged more lightly, by whether they have done some kindness. Kindness for whom? For Jesus, for “these least brothers and sisters of mine.”

We know that the Gospel relates to the non-Christians because of the surprise they all express, both the sheep and the goats. They did not see this coming. Yet we all are so familiar with this prophecy that we would know exactly what Jesus was talking about. As soon as he started dividing us to the right or to the left, we would know what was going on.

However, this does not mean that we can ignore this Gospel. First of all, Jesus is providing a very low minimum standard to get into heaven. We should be meeting and exceeding this standard. Jesus says that those who knew better will be judged more harshly. Do not expect to get into heaven because you did something nice for someone once. We are supposed to be on Jesus’ side! He is our king and we are his servants. We are supposed to love God above all else. If doing something for someone in need is doing it for Jesus, we ought to jump at all such opportunities. We ought to be seeking out such opportunities. Business men are always looking for opportunities in the market; Christians should be just as vigilant to find people in need. Which one of us profits more? Let the business men make his billions, but Christians have a greater reward.

Second, considering the Gospel and the first reading together, we can come to a conclusion. God promises to provide, but he is not the one providing. If I say that the President helped the victims of an earthquake, I really mean that a lot of people helped the victims. If I say that the Twins won another game, I really mean that the players, Joe and Justin and Michael, won another game. If I say that God provides, and I claim to be a servant of God, that means that I provide.

God has provided so much, but if we healthy people, who have been provided with health by God, do not go visit the sick, who will? The political goal might be to achieve an economic system where everyone has plenty and no one needs any help, and that sounds great. I wish the political system the best of luck with that. But even if that were ever achieved, and I kind of doubt that it ever will be, it would not remove the need we have for charity.

We humans need to give charity. Within us is a need, designed in us by God, to serve our brothers and sisters. As with every need, if we fail to answer it, we will die. If we do not eat or drink, we die. Those are bodily needs, so the death is bodily. If we do not give and serve, we die. Those are spiritual needs, so the death is spiritual. Someone who never gives and never serves is spiritually dead.

But just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. We are brought to life by Christ's example. He lived entirely for the sake of others. He considered his life to be a gift from the Father to be used for the salvation of the world. Seeing how Christ lived should make us want to live better ourselves. we are brought to life by his example, and we are brought to life by his grace. God does not force himself on us, but when we want help and ask for help to be better servants, God will help us.

What should we think of a waiter who stands at the table bragging about the excellent service at his restaurant and then, after an hour goes by, begins complaining that the service is not so good after all? So also is a Christian who teaches that God provides and then does not actually get around to providing. Right now there are children starving to death in Somalia. Right now there are Christians in Iraq struggling against violence and persecution. Why isn’t God providing for them? Which is to say, why aren’t we providing for them?