In the liturgical calendar the last Sunday before Advent is designated as “Christ the King,” thus winding up the church year. Advent begins the cycle all over again, waiting for the child that is acknowledged as the Reigning One at the close of ordinary time. A preponderance of shepherding images links the lectionary readings for this week. Ezekiel 34 portrays God as searching shepherd, rescuing and protecting wounded, scattered sheep. Interestingly, God is much more interested in the weak and straying; the fat and strong do not require tending care. Indeed, they became such at the expense of others. This prophetic word offers a rebuke to those nations who oppress
The Gospel lesson, Matthew 25, offers a culminating vision when the sheep and goats are divided according to their acts of justice and mercy. [Actually, I have always wondered why the goats fared so poorly in Scripture. They are versatile, useful creatures, evidently a littler smarter than sheep, but symbolic of those who go their own way.] In the depiction of the Great Judgment, Christ as the Reigning One will judge the nations according to their attentiveness to those hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and far from home. Christ reigns through such utter identification with these that he can say, “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.” Too often I keep more company with the goats—those who ignore Christ in his distressing disguise as one of the least. I pray to de-throne myself so that I might recognize him close at hand.