20 Nov, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King
Today’s input marks the end of the first year of the Homily Resources feature. The ACP leadership has kindly invited me to continue these daily inputs, but I would welcome feedback from readers, saying what kind of changes they feel might improve its usefulness in 2012.
Fr Pat Rogers
Theme: Renewal of Loyalty
On the last Sunday in the liturgical year we honour Christ the King. It is a timely year-end call, to renew our loyalty to Jesus our Saviour, and to show our love for him in the way that we love our neighbour. The shepherd-theme is predominant, both as a motive for our trusting in God’s care for us and in the challenge to be, each in our own way, co-workers with that great Shepherd of our souls.
Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17. God promises to personally take care of his people, as the shepherd cares for the sheep.
1 Cor 15:20-26, 28. At the end of the world, all forces that are hostile to Christ will be overcome. Then the victorious Christ will rule as universal king.
Mt 25:31-46. In the Last Judgment each one will be rewarded or punished according to whether we observed or failed to observe the commandment of practical brotherly love.
– that we may always remain deeply attached and loyal to Christ our and our King.
– that we may know him not only as king, but also as the shepherd and guide of our souls, our most intimate and constant friend.
– that husbands and wives may always remain loyal and supportive to each other, and that children may treasure their family and remain loyal to their parents.
– that we may always remain active members of our Christian community, to the Mass and the sacraments.
The title ‘King’ was one that Jesus was not particularly happy with. But he did speak a lot about the kingdom of God or the reign of God – God’s dream for the world.
Sometimes you hear people criticise social justice activists: why are they always preaching about economics, poverty, health care and things like that which are not really the concern of religion? Why does the Church not stick to what it was founded for and teach us about faith, prayer, the ten commandments and the real things of religion? Why don’t they leave politics and economics to the politicians and economists who know something about these things? But it is not a case of either or… Today’s reading reminds us that there is a social justice side to the kingdom and that we will be judged finally on how we treated the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners and the marginalised.
Another aspect… Talking about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, looking after the naked and homeless and those in prison – do not parents do this all the time for their children from the moment they are conceived until well into middle age? ‘As long as you did to one of these little ones, you did it to me’.
More Than They Knew
You might have had the experience of doing something for somebody and only subsequently discovering that it meant far more to that person than you realized at the time you did it? We are not always aware of the good we might be doing. We don’t always appreciate how significant our actions are for others or how much our presence means to them. In some ways that can be a good thing, because it can prevent us from becoming too proud, or taking ourselves too seriously. In other ways it may not be a good thing because we can fail to value something in ourselves that others value much. We may be tempted to give up doing something that people really value because we are unaware of how significant it is. We may think we are doing nothing particularly worthwhile, when we fact we may be doing something of real value.
The thought came to me from the two groups of people in this gospel parable. The first group were amazed to discover that what they had done in life was far more significant than they had realized. Only at the end of their lives did they realize that their ordinary simple acts of kindness and consideration were in fact serving the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. To their amazement, they discovered that there was a much deeper dimension to what they were doing than they had ever suspected. In attending to the ordinary, they were, in reality engaging with the eternal. “When did we see you …. ” they asked the glorious Son of Man. His reply was, “In so far as you did this to one of the least, you did it to me.” What they did in a matter-of-fact way turned out to have eternal significance. In dealing with their broken and troublesome and unfortunate neighbours, they were, in reality, dealing with the Lord of the Universe. What they had been doing was far more significant than they could ever have dreamt, and ha consequences far beyond what they realized at the time.
It can be difficult for us to realize that in our ordinary dealings with each other we are in a real sense dealing with the Lord, and that is especially true when we are confronted with others in all their brokenness and need. It is in the ordinary, every day affairs of life that we are responding to the Lord. The care that someone gives to a sick relative is care given to the Lord, whether that is realized or not. The welcome we give to a stranger who feels vulnerable in a foreign environment is a welcome given to the Lord. The way we relate to prisoners or ex-prisoners reveals how we relate to the Lord. In the parable, Jesus doesn’t say “I was imprisoned for no good reason and you visited me,” or he doesn’t say, “I was imprisoned because of my witness to the gospel and you visited me.” No, it is much simpler than that, “I was in prison,” full stop. No attempt is made to distinguish one prisoner from another or one crime from another. How we treat our prisoners, regardless of what they have done, is a commenary on how we treat the Lord himself. This gospel reading gives no encouragement to the attitude of lock them up and throw away the key. How we try to integrate ex-prisoners into our community, our society, is also making a statement about how we are receiving the Lord’s coming to us. As a society how many resources are we putting into the important work of helping ex-prisoners to find a meaningful role in our society, so that they can build a new life for themselves that is crime-free?
No matter how strong, competent, assured or poised a person may seem to be each person can be hurt. There is always a weak spot in the circle of one’s mind. Holiness is about allowing the divine light into one’s life precisely at that place so that the whole of one’s life may be renewed and transfigured. To be spiritual is to awaken to the light of one’s own spirit, whose deepest source is God. When God started his Kingdom, he built it not on power, but on spirit. It is a kingdom made up not of achievement or possessions. Rather the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of emptiness. It is the place where those who are able to let go can enter. This is why Jesus always claimed that the Kingdom of God was beginning among the weak, the sounded, the strays and the lost. Jesus is King of the lost and the weak, those who have let go.
The human mind is one of the most beautiful achievements of creation. It seems that no other aspect of creation can gather itself to intimacy in the way the person can gather hisher life with the mind. Joseph Conrad said: “The mind of man is capable of anything, because everything is in it.” The human mind is a miniature world, within the privacy of the body. To become human is to be an explorer – to go on the voyage inwards to the unawakened territories within.
The person who has the courage to awaken and inhabit their own interiority become transfigured. They learn to see that every moment of life comes from elsewhere, that one is not the author or controller on one’s own life. One has no right to this giftedness. To realize this is to turn one’s life into a celebration. The false burdens of control and power over one’s life give way to a great sense of acceptance, joy and celebration. To come into this new way of seeing is to learn to be. The Kingdom of God transfigures fear into courage, sadness into joy, false attachment into real belonging and blindness into new seeing. The Kingdom of God is that which alone is real. Kathleen Raine says: “Unless you see a thing in the light of love, you do not see at all.”
One of the exciting things about the Kingdom of God is that it defies ordinary perception. No one can say whether an other is holy or not. As Jesus so trenchantly saw, it is not always those who seem to be in it, who are. The Kingdom of God is a completely different rhythm. The contour of the Kingdom of God is not drawn according to the lines of the world or the church. At the end of the day the ideal candidate for the Kingdom of God seems to be the Outsider, the one who has found the centre too suffocating and falsely possessive and had to move out to the edge.
Today we hear Jesus’ powerful description of the General Judgement. Even if it is a parable, and not intended as literal truth, there is a great deal to learn from it. It is only right and appropriate that the last Sunday in the Year should have a graphic description of the Last Judgement.
Today’s gospel contains the questions on our final exam papers, the exam we will face when we die! Please note that the questions will be almost scandalously materialistic. If I take the parable seriously, I may be asked about slices of bread, cups of water, or an overcoat, that I gave or did not give to my neighbour in need. There will be no questions about devotional practises, about whether I went to church, etc.
It is important to understand the implications of today’s gospel. Jesus takes whatever we do for others as being done to him. Like St Paul, we have never met Jesus in the flesh, as he looked and appeared to his apostles. We meet him now in the shape of others, whether he is happy, rejected, or marginalised.Those questions on the exam paper are so simple. “I was hungry; thirsty; naked; in prison; a stranger; and what did you do about it?” None of us can pretend that we never came across such people, and we were never given the opportunity.
The group on his left were amazed to find that they had not done what was expected, because they probably never gave much thought to others anyhow, and such actions were not within the remit of their thinking. From the time I was a child my favourite excuse was “Sorry, I forgot” or “Oh, I never thought of it.” This is something we can carry into life with us.
Story: Some years ago I was called to a large hospital by a family whose mother was dying. After doing what I could staying with them until she died, and joining them for a cup of tea and a chat afterwards, it was time to leave. It was now after midnight, and it was bitterly cold frosty night. As I came down the steps of the hospital, I noticed a man huddled in an overcoat and a blanket on the steps. I was in one of my better moods, so I stopped, and sat beside him. I was surprised that, when viewed from close up, he was much younger than he had appeared. I gave him some money, and I offered him a cigarette. With a little prompting, he told me his story, where he was from, his family or origin, how he came to be where he was, and what his hope was for the future. After about six cigarettes, we had an animated conversation, and I was enthralled by his story. He was a gentle soul, and he seemed to open out in the warmth of my interest. Eventually I had to leave. When I got up to leave, I was completely taken of guard by what happened next. He insisted that I take back the money I had given him, because I had given him something more precious than money. That could also be true in reverse.
Jesus is to be found everywhere if I take the time and trouble to be with him, and to give him time and interest..
First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11ff
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will fed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats:
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20ff
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for 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.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”