26Nov 26 Nov 2017. Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

On the last Sunday in our liturgical year we honour Christ as ultimate King of our universe. It’s an occasion for renewing our trust in Jesus as our Saviour, and for his sake to really love our neighbour. The shepherd-theme in the first reading serves both to remind us of God’s care for us and to work as co-workers with the great Shepherd of our souls.

See the Readings in the JB version,
and  the Readings in Irish.

1st Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17

God promises to personally care for his people, as the shepherd cares for the sheep

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:

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28

At the end of the world, all enemies will be overcome and Christ will rule as universal king

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

We will be judged by the standard of visible, tangible love

Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”


A Kingdom of Justice, Love and Peace

St Paul visualises Jesus Christ handing over the kingdom to God the Father at the end of time. This ideal kingdom is not something to be piously hoped for as a future gift, but something to be worked for by Christians in the present time. The full extent of the kingdom is indeed to be hoped for, but somehow it is also in our midst, in the process of becoming. Today’s gospel shows how we are to promote the fuller coming of God’s kingdom in our world. It comes whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To behave in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who is presented in our Gospels as one who eases alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. Among his final words was a promise to the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be enfolded by the eternal love of God, in paradise.

The best way to honour Christ our King is to work for the unfolding and promoting of his kingdom. In working for the relief of deprived, oppressed or marginalised people, we are serving Christ in person, because he fully identified with people in need, right up to his final moment in this life. The disciple of Christ the King cannot afford the luxury of living in a gated community, resolutely secure in a fortress, comfortably “keeping myself to myself” with the lame claim that “I do nobody any harm.” To be deaf to the cries of my neighbour in need is to be deaf to Christ. To be blind to the anguish of the dying is to be blind to Christ. To recognise Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king involves being carers or shepherds in some way ourselves; for the work of the Kingdom goes on until he comes again.

The decisive issue

[José Antonio Pagola]

Today’s Gospel story portrays the final judgment of all the people on earth. Its centre is a lengthy dialogue between the judge (none other than the risen Jesus) and two groups of people: those who have eased the suffering of the most needy and those who neglected to help them. Throughout the centuries, Christians have found in this fascinating dialogue the best summary of the Gospel, with its absolute praise of loving solidarity, and grave warning to those who falsely seek refuge in religion. We’ll focus on the basic assertions.

All men and women, without exception, will be judged by the same standard. What gives life its special value isn’t one’s social condition, or personal talent, or successes achieved over one’s lifetime. What’s decisive is our practical love in solidarity with those in need of help. This love is translated into very concrete deeds. For example, give food, give drink, welcome the immigrant, visit the sick or imprisoned. The things that are decisive for God aren’t religious actions, but these human gestures of help for the needy. They can come out of a believer or from the heart of an agnostic who’s concerned about those who suffer.

The group who have helped the needy they met in their life-journey didn’t do it for explicitly religious motives. They haven’t thought about God or Jesus. They simply sought to alleviate a little the suffering in our world. Now, invited by Jesus, they enter into God’s reign as those blessed by the Father .

Why is it so decisive to help the needy and so wrong to deny them help? Because, according to the judge, what is done or not done to the needy is done or not done to the very God incarnate in Christ. When we neglect a needy person, we are neglecting God. When we ease someone’s suffering, we are doing so for God. This surprising message gets us all to pay attention to those who suffer. There’s no true religion, no progressive politics, no responsible proclamation of human rights if it isn’t defending the most needy, easing their suffering and restoring their dignity.

In each person who is suffering, Jesus comes to meet us, he looks at us, questions us and challenges us. Nothing brings us closer to him than to learn to gaze with compassion on the faces of those who are suffering. There’s no other place we can recognize more truly the face of Jesus.

The Kingdom is within you

(John O’Donoghue)

No matter how strong, competent, assured or poised a person may seem to be each one 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 our whole 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 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 wounded, 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 his/her 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 un-awakened 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.

More good than we knew

We are not always aware of the good we might be doing. We don’t know how significant our actions are for others or how much our presence means to them. In some ways that is a good thing, as it can prevent us from taking ourselves too seriously. In other ways it may not be a good thing because we may give up doing something worthwhile because we are unaware of its value. We may think we are doing nothing particularly worthwhile, when we fact it’s really significant.

Think of the two groups of people in this story. The first group are amazed to discover that what they had done in life meant far more 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 Glory. To their amazement, they discovered they had done more good than they had ever suspected. In attending to the ordinary, they were also engaging with the eternal. “When did we see you?… ” they asked the 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.

It can be difficult to realize that in our ordinary, everyday behaviour we are in a real sense dealing with the Lord, and that is especially true regarding others in all their situations of need. It is in the ordinary, every day affairs of life that we are responding to the Lord. The care one gives to a sick relative is care given to the Lord, whether that is realized or not. The welcome given 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 is how we relate to the Lord.

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,” period. No attempt is made to distinguish prisoner from another or one crime from another. How we treat our prisoners, regardless of what they have done, is a commentary 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 put 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 after prison?

Rí na nUile

Is é an Tiarna m’aoire, ní bheidh aon ní de dhíth orm.

Cad is cóir dúinn a cheapadh ar an Sollútas inniú, ina móraimid Íosa Chríost mar “Rí na nUile” ? Ag éisteacht le Briathar De atá léite againn inniú, chreidim gur féidir linn miniúcháin agus smaointe éagsúla a bhaint as an bhféile seo..

  • Dóchas, as an chéad léacht agus an Salm le Freagra…. Ta Íosa ag faire orainn mar a dhéanann an tréadai cúram ar na caoraigh..
  • Bagairt: Mar tá breithiúnas deireannach ag fanacht ar gach aon duine, ag deire na h’aoise… agus níor mhaith dúinn bheith idir lucht na láimhe clé, iadsan ar a déarfaidh Iosa leo: “Bhí ocras orm agus níor thug sibh aon rud le hithe dom, bhí tart orm agus níor thug sibh aon rud le hól dom, bhí mé i mo strainséir agus tinn agus i bpríosún agus níor chabraigh sibh liom”
  • Dúshlán agus cuireadh: An rud is tabhachtai, dar liom, na go gcuireann ár Rí, Íosa, in ar gcumhacht seirbhís pearsanta a thabhairt do féin, gach lá. ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, sa mhéid go ndearna sibh é do dhuine den chuid is lú de’m chlann seo agamsa, is domsa a rinne sibh é.’

Nach breá an rud é dúinn bheith ainseo ag tabhairt onóir agus adhradh…? Ach ní mór dúinn an dara rud a dhéanadh freisin: freastal ar daoine eile, an chuid is lú de na bráithre agus deirfiúracha seo agamsa.. “sa mhéid go ndearna sibh é dóibh, is domsa a rinne sibh é.”

2 Responses

  1. Joseph O Leary

    In the month of November we reflect on death and on the souls of the departed. It is not a topic we like to think about. Especially we do not like to think about painful death such as death by hunger, or death by fire. And it is particularly painful to think of mass death, in natural catastrophes or in famines. Worst of all is the thought of mass death deliberately inflicted by human beings on other human beings.

    Last Sunday, I took part in an ecumenical service on the Holodomor famine-genocide of 1933-34 (see Anne Applebaum, “Red Famine: Stalins’s War on Ukraine,” London: Allen Lane, 2017). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor

    I remembered other instances of famine used as a weapon: the bombing of Dutch dikes by the Nazis (some of the perpetrators were executed as war criminals), the similar bombings of dams in North Korea during the Korean War (which leaves a legacy of hate against the US in North Korea), the exportation of food under armed guard from Ireland during the potato famine under the prime-ministership of Sir, later Lord, John Russell. Russell was a weak Prime Minister, and may have been influenced by the cruel “Malthusian” thinking of the time, which thought of famines as ridding the world of excess population. He was the grandfather of the great philosopher Bertrand Russell who remembered him as a kindly old gentleman. Ordinary people like you and me can commit atrocities, sometimes casually or out of carelessness.

    The Sunday before last I visited the memorial building in Ryogoku for the victims of the 1923 earthquake. The building combines elements of Shinto and Buddhist architecture but is otherwise a completely secular site. I was with the religion scholar Michael Pye who asked a man praying there to whom he was praying. The man told us that he merely spoke to the souls of the dead saying “yasunde kudasai.” http://muza-chan.net/japan/index.php/blog/tokyo-memorial-earthquake-victims

    More recently another monument has been built in the same place, a memorial to the victims of the Tokyo fire bombings of 1945. Those bombings were calculated to inflict maximum pain on their victims. Death by fire, death by famine, on a mass scale were used as instruments of war. And the same thing is happening today, in Yemen for example.

    The sheer weight of horror at the cruel deaths humans devise for one another, and especially when the deaths of millions are perpetrated casually, by ordinary people like you and me, leaves one at a loss for words. Where in all this is the Kingship of Christ, whom we acclaim as the Lord of history?

    The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pius XI in 1925 at a time when the Catholic world was pitted against Communism. The feast was celebrated in October. In 1970 Paul VI replaced this feast with a very different feast of Christ the King to be celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. This removed the idea of Christ’s Kingship from any nostalgia for medieval monarchy and from any battle of political ideologies. Instead we are invited to raise our eyes in faith to the ultimate triumph of Christ over sin and death.

    “And his kingdom will have no end” we say in the Creed, in a quotation of the Gospel (Luke 1:33). That phrase was added to the Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD to correct the error of Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra who thought that Christ’s Kingdom was merely temporary and would be surrendered to God the Father as sole king at the end of the world. This was based on a misreading of 1 Corinthians 15:24-5: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (Marcellus also seems to have believed that that Christ himself would disappear into the divine unity and cease to be a different person.)

    In any case the Kingship of Christ is an idea with deep biblical foundations. The Church talks of the three offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king.

    “The Lord is king, let earth rejoice!” (Psalm 97:1) — this message comes to meet the faith that is lodged deep in the human heart that, despite the horrible and disheartening cruelties of history, good will ultimately prevail over evil, truth over lies, and life over death.

    Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest scientist and the greatest artist of his time, placed the figure of Christ at the center of the cosmos in The Last Supper and in the $550 million-dollar Salvator Mundi, and this figure, the Savior of the World, as the Samaritans call him in John 4:42, comes to meet the hope that lives in the depths of the human heart.

    Christ embraces and enters into suffering of the victims by undergoing death in one of its cruelest forms. Even more, he enters into and embraces the guilt of the perpetrators (“God made him to be sin who knew no sin”, 2 Corinthans 5:21). We are all in the same boat, we are all of the same human clay, shared with the murderers and shared with their victims. And Christ made this human clay his own. Christ reigns from the Cross, the emblem of the worst human suffering and the worst human sin, through which God shows forth his power and wisdom. “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-4).

  2. Pádraig McCarthy

    The gospel reading today is, on the surface, about the “Last Judgment.” But not really.

    Legislation about driving on the roads is not ultimately about what will happen if I contravene the regulations. It’s about how I drive today.

    The gospel reading today, ultimately, is about how I live today. It’s not about when Jesus comes again; it’s about how he comes today in his glory in the people around me, in the most neglected and marginalised people around me.

    This is not a new teaching: it has been the case since the foundation of the world.

    Our gathering as Christians today is to hear the good news that the Lord is already among us in his glory, and that we encounter him today, although we may not often recognise that it he whom we serve and love.

    It’s not that in showing care and love for those in need, it’s “as if” we are doing so for Jesus. We are doing it for him, and essentially we cannot do this unless we welcome the poorest and weakest.

    The contrast with the “judgment” in last Sunday’s reading of the “talents” is stark. It’s not about how we increase our wealth, but how we give it away.

    There’s a Latin scholastic axiom:“Bonum est diffusivum sui.” The nature of goodness is to give itself away, to spread the goodness.

    Disciples came to their Rabbi and asked, “When is the best time to repent?” He replied, “The best time to repent is the day before you die.” The disciples reflected: “But, Rabbi, we might die tomorrow!” “Yes,” said the Rabbi.

    If I want to speak of the “Last Judgment”, I do so knowing that that judgment is already today.

    As Richard Rohr says: “It’s heaven all the way to heaven. It’s hell all the way to hell.”

    Pádraig McCarthy

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