On this last Sunday of the Church’s Liturgical Year, we celebrate Jesus Christ as the King of the Universe. We get a sense of the awesome fullness of his reign from today’s second reading, where St. Paul tells us that Christ must reign “until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” and “everything is subjected to him,” including “every sovereignty and every authority and power.” He is the supreme King and Lord, ruling over all.
If we ponder this deeply, we might find some fear or at least anxiety stirring in our hearts. We are used to seeing how powerful people operate. Even when we are dealing with someone who only has a bit of power, like our boss or a local politician, we tend to be careful about how we act and talk around that person. After all, they can benefit us or hurt us if they wish to do so. Even more so if the person is very rich or very powerful; they have the potential to change our situation for better or worse depending on how they feel about us.
How much more, then, might we be worried about how Jesus will treat us, since he has absolute power over our very lives and even our eternal condition? St. Paul tells us that Jesus will destroy all his enemies in the end, even death itself. Knowing our sinfulness and our unworthiness, we might worry that Jesus will judge us as his “enemies,” as he seems to be doing with the “goats” in the Gospel.
To begin to alleviate this concern, the Liturgy first gives us an assuring passage from the prophet Ezekiel. God makes it clear that he is like a shepherd who is guarding over his sheep. He rescues them from where they were scattered. He pastures them and gives them rest. He promises, “the lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal.” If we are lost, if we have strayed, if we are sick, we need not fear, because we have a Divine Shepherd who does not consider us his enemies but rather is only concerned with our welfare and will always reach out to save us.
The Psalm teaches us the same thing. The Lord is our Shepherd, leading and guiding us, providing us with refreshing water and good pasture, protecting us from all enemies, bringing us home to dwell in his house with him “for years to come.” And we know that Jesus clearly identified himself as the Good Shepherd.
What do we make, then, of the statement of God in the first reading, where he says, “the sleek and the strong I will destroy”? And how can this loving Shepherd pronounce such seemingly harsh judgment on the “goats” in the Gospel, when he says to them, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”?
We can begin to understand this by considering what kind of judge Jesus is, and what kind of judgment he makes on sinners. We know that, throughout this life, he drew close to sinners, eating and drinking with them and never drawing back from them. In fact, the “holy ones” of the time often criticized him for his compassion for sinners. In the end, the “judgment” he made on sin was that he suffered terrible torture and crucifixion to overcome it. He did not inflict condemnation on sinners; rather he took the condemnation on himself. The Lord Jesus did not make light of sin – he judged it as deadly – but he took the deadly consequences of sin on himself. He was wounded so that others might be healed. He died that others might have life. That is the kind of King we have, and that is the kind of Kingdom over which he rules.
Now we can understand that the “sleek and the strong” in the reading from Ezekiel are those who are concerned only with making themselves strong. They will not suffer in order to help another. They are like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who went over to the other side of the road to avoid the man who had been robbed and beaten. They are concerned with gaining as much strength and health as they can for themselves rather than reaching out to help others. But there is no place for this kind of attitude in Jesus’ Kingdom. It is the opposite of who he is and what he does. And so such people make themselves enemies of Jesus, not because he wants that, but because they have chosen a way which is opposed to his way.
St. Paul tells us that “in Christ shall all be brought to life.” To be “in Christ” means to be a branch on his Vine, allowing his Spirit to fill us with his own life and to continue his mission in us. If we strive to do this, dying to self to bring life to others, then we will one day hear the most amazing words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Our King is preparing a Kingdom for us! He does not want simply to reign over us, but to raise us up to reign with him in eternal glory! Let us thank and praise him for his unfathomable mercy and love, and acclaim him as our glorious King and Lord!
What are my anxieties about the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ? How can I interpret Ezekiel’s words “the sleek and the strong I will destroy”? What causes me to choose the ways of the world rather than the ways of Jesus?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.