We are progressing to the culmination of the Christian Year. We have moved through the seasons of Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time, which have ordered our days and assisted our deepening discipleship. This coming Sunday we will celebrate the recognition of Christ as the One who will reign forever. The texts for this Sunday offer a picture of majestic humility.
The passage from Ezekiel portrays one who refuses to reign without exerting every effort to gather the scattered subjects. “Now I myself will ask after my sheep and go in search of them” (34:11b). It is a lovely demonstration of mercy: “I will search for the lost, recover the straggler, bandage the hurt, strengthen the sick, leave the healthy and strong to play, and give them their proper food” (v. 16). God’s shepherd does not look kindly upon those who have exploited the weak, and promises to judge accordingly. Those who “butt with their horns” will not be welcome in God’s flock.
The Gospel lesson echoes the prophet’s warning, again using pastoral images of sheep and goats. Matthew 25:31-46 offers a vision of how God will sum up the age by dividing between those who have participated in God’s hidden reign and those who have refused. The criterion for inclusion is feeding the hungry, offering drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, tending the ill, and visiting the prisoner (vv. 35-36). Ministering to these is ministering to Christ, who has so identified with the “least of these.”
I do think we make “following Jesus” an overly complicated pursuit at times. We want to understand mysterious sayings, such as the timeframe contained in this passage, yet we ignore those things that are quite clear. Followers of Jesus pursue certain practices, and these practices of mercy express the values of God’s reign.
It is also a picture of judgment, which is not a very popular topic in many Christian circles these days. We tend to think we have unlimited time to turn toward godly acts, and we continue in our self-absorbed patterns. Yet, God is not blind to the ways we exploit others for personal satisfaction, and there will be an ultimate reckoning by God’s calculus.
The humility of God’s reign is remarkable. Rather than coercing belief through displays of sheer grandeur, God chooses to invite participation in the holy work of mending the world, what the Jews call tikkun olam. I trust we will find that we are blessed of God as we join in this labor of love.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.