Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 23:1-3, 5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46
“As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” Ez. 34:17
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him (for judgement).” Mt. 25:31
Jesus, the King of the Universe, came to reign in the Kingdom of God. Jesus has already established His Kingdom on Earth and we are living in it. Right now. We in the United States are likely to be among the few places on Earth that might seem to have some actual resemblance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course, surviving and prospering in the U.S. is no cakewalk (remember those?), but here one can imagine quite easily a better life with some hard work, wisdom and a fair amount of luck. Not so in many places. That’s why so many people are still flooding our borders. It just looks so much better here. People are not necessarily coming to the United States, however, because they are seeking Jesus. In fact, many are very insistent on holding tightly to their non-Christian beliefs and insist that Americans recognize their presence and even celebrate their customs and beliefs. And then there is this growing group of established Americans who simply have no particular religion and are happy to just make it up as they go along.
Even amidst all this ‘diversity’, the US looks more like ‘heaven’ than the ‘hell’ so many are fleeing in their countries of origin. Yet to many established Americans our society and culture seem to be unraveling. We seem to be going backwards. If indeed we ever had some kind of common unifying themes, standards or Commandments to guide us, it seems they have been lost. It’s hard to not notice the irony of this conflicted situation.
And despite all this diversity, complexity and confusion, we are today proclaiming that Jesus Christ is King of the whole universe. Not just the US or the ‘western world’, but the whole earth and all the other planets. The whole universe!! This amazing claim must be an almost constant point of discussion at the family dinner table!!
In reality, this is probably seldom if ever a topic of conversation … because our world, our country doesn’t look like it’s being ruled by an all-powerful, benevolent King. Jeus Himself refers to ‘this world’ as the kingdom of Satan and Satan as the ruler of this world. He is still ‘prowling around looking for someone to devour.’ How could it be both? We’ll come to that in a moment.
Last week in the Gospel, the parable of the stewards and the talents helped us understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. Today’s gospel reminds us that one of the clearest criteria for getting to Heaven (or going to Hell) is determined by how well we treat the most vulnerable (the least) among us. We as individuals, as churches and as nations are responsible for the weak and confused and struggling.
Amidst the stern scriptural warnings of judgement that we hear in the final weeks of Ordinary Time, we also hear the comforting message today of Psalm 23. We are assured that God wants to bring us to a place of rest, bounty and peace. Since our Church has been given all the power and authority of Heaven and we are also commanded to love each other as Jesus loves us, we can see the awesome responsibility we have to use our many gifts well. (Recall last week the lazy servant who just buried his one talent. He was thrown outside in the dark where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth).
We can also see that we don’t have to wait until the final judgement to experience the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s all around us, even in our relatively safe and prosperous nation. The world is a very complicated place and seems out of anyone’s control, even for those of us with the best intentions. It is beyond our control, but NOT beyond the King of the Universe. Advent, starting next Sunday, will again be a time of slowing down and rediscovering the reign of God all around us. As our focus gets renewed, we will see what needs to be done for the most vulnerable. It only gets better after that!!
What is your clearest personal experience of the Kingdom among us?
Who most needs the kind of assistance you can personally provide?