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 Israel, who have ravaged the flock of God. The text also suggests that God wants those entrusted with shepherding responsibility to be especially attentive to those in greater need.
This past Sunday I was privileged to attend the ordination of Jonathan Clark, a third generation graduate of Central. Preachers populate the family, and therefore the program was filled with those who are regularly called “pastor,” those who have shepherding care of others. Often when ministers cluster on a program, the longsuffering congregation may be subjected to “words without end.” Yet, this service was mercifully spare. All gathered knew that the ordination charge is rather straightforward: feed and tend the sheep as a good minister of Christ Jesus. Thankfully, Reverend Clark is already a wise and gentle shepherd, guiding a church in the urban core of Kansas City, Kansas, toward faithful service.
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 by the goats fared so poorly in Scripture. They are versatile, useful creatures, evidently a little 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.” Some of us keep more company with the goats—those who ignore Christ in his distressing disguise as one of the least. May we learn to de-throne ourselves so that we might recognize him close at hand. May we also recognize him as worthy of our highest worship, for he shall reign forever and ever. Amen.
Molly T. Marshall
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