Q346: Sheep and goats and kings and naked people… is there somehow a connection in these readings with the theme of “Christ the King”?
One word jumps out at us from today’s readings, an “implied” word based on the context of each reading. That word is judgment. Ezekiel had reminded the people of their long history of sinfulness and infidelity to God’s covenant; now there was no more ‘wiggle room’ – it was now time for judgment. The leadership and stewardship, as well as the acquiescence of the people in violating God’s law, was a matter of record. Now it was too late to change: judgment was upon them.
In the pastoral or agricultural society of ancient Israel, the word “Shepherd” had very special significance regarding the King and his relationship to the people. The main role of a king in that culture was to shepherd and safeguard the people. But because of the bad leadership (both throne and temple), God himself would have to take over the task of shepherding the people. Chapter 34 of Ezekiel is all about the abundant life that awaits the faithful from this shepherd. And we all know that this promise [Ezek 34:11-17] and prophecy of abundant life was fulfilled only in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians [1 Cor 15:20-28] speaks about Christ, the King of Kings who will turn over his kingdom to the Father on judgment day. And of course, the Gospel [Matt 25:31-46] is very forthright about the way the true Shepherd, the Son of Man, will himself separate the faithful ones from those unfaithful to God’s ways of justice and mercy on that inevitable day of judgment.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! What is your own relationship to the “naked people,” the hungry, the immigrant, the prisoner? We cannot have eternal life unless we freely choose to love God and neighbor (CCC #1033). With our “daily bread” goes the responsibility of stewardship (CCC #2831). We, the People of God are a “sheepfold” and must respond to the true Shepherd (CCC #754), the One who gave His life for His sheep.
Q503: The people condemned in today’s Gospel seem to be very surprised at the way they are condemned at the Last Judgment. Why is this?
The usually irreverent Mark Twain once said, “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand” [source: Barbara Schmidt website of Quotations]. I suspect that it was a segment like today’s Gospel [Matt 25:31-46] that became a “rare” occasion when the Bible had meaning for him. Can we agree that it is very hard to Misunderstand today’s lesson of Jesus about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and other works of mercy? I think that like Mark Twain, we ought to be very concerned about our own behavior, relative to today’s lesson.
The “Goats” in the story, by implication, had done all the “pious” things that they thought would earn them their heavenly reward. They went to Mass every day. They said a daily Rosary. They never forgot to say their daily prayers. And they did their best to avoid contact with sin and sinners. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, something very important is missing.
The “Goats” had neglected to do something that the “Sheep” had already done. The “Goats” had acted well in “avoiding” sin and sinners; but they had done nothing in the area of works of mercy. Jesus is crystal clear about our responsibilities as his disciple. We are to actively participate in the mission of Jesus, reaching out to those in need. This is particularly true regarding those we encounter; but it also applies to those we do not encounter. In other words, you can help the poor in other locations by giving to Catholic Charities, or some other worthy charitable group who has access to the “really” poor and needy.
The readings at the end of each Church cycle are all about the End Times. Let them send a warning shiver up your spine, like Mark Twain may have experienced. Don’t get caught being unprepared! You know what is expected of you; do it!
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The “goats” will not enjoy eternal life in heaven (CCC #1038). Did you ever consider the truth that the term “evil doer” includes the “non-doer” of works of mercy (CCC #1034)?
Christ the Shepherd King
Israel was in exile as a result of kings who used their power and authority to exalt themselves. Ezekiel comforted Israel with the vision of God himself coming to be their shepherd king, guiding, defending, and judging among his people. Matthew’s Gospel shows us that Jesus is that Divine Shepherd King.
Some Americans have been uncomfortable with this feast. They think of kings as irrelevant in the modern world, or like the bad kings of Israel, as power hungry tyrants. Many prefer to think of Jesus as their friend or buddy, and in a way he is. However, we must always acknowledge his authority and power as the king victorious over sin and death, ruling over the universe. But he is also the shepherd king who uses his power and authority for the benefit of his people. We see this today in the criteria for distinguishing between the “sheep” and the “goats.” By baptism we share in Christ’s life and his kingship and we are called to exercise it through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Lord, you are my king and my shepherd. Help me to follow where you lead, to reach out to you in every person I meet, remembering that no act of love, however small, is without value.