Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe 2020 – Fr. Rick Sherman
Ez. 34:11-17; Ps. 23; 1Cor.15:1-28; Mt. 25:31-46
In these times of great disruption and uncertainty, the greatest gift and assurance we have is that Christ is still on the throne. He’s still in charge. He’s still King of the Universe. As I say this, it occurs to me that we are always living in times of great disruption and great uncertainty. In fact, that is why God sent Jesus to us in the first place; to disrupt our little human-made world. I think particularly we post-World War II Americans have lived so long in relative peace and prosperity that we think that we are actually the Lords of the Universe. When human beings think we are the Lord, then it is indeed time for a disruption of great magnitude.
The second reading today from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians promises that when Jesus returns, he will hand His Kingdom over to the Father “when He has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.” Jesus has to disrupt all the human activity and structures that are born out of the illusion that we are the Lords of the Universe. To further the point, in the Gospel today we are told that “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. And he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He will separate THE NATIONS. It sounds like we are somehow judged not just on our own merits, but collectively. Humans are held accountable for the ‘kingdoms’ we have created and perpetuated. In fact, right before His ascension back into Heaven, Jesus sent us out to teach the nations.
In our pandemic world when we yearn to get back to ‘normal’, Jesus would have us take pause to ponder. Was Jesus really our Lord before the pandemic? Was it really Jesus in whom we had put our trust? Why all this fuss about Donald and Joe and Nancy and Mitch and Kamala and Bernie and Chuck? All relentlessly scrapping for ‘power and authority and sovereignty’. All are very, very confident of themselves even in their adamant disagreement. Are they the Good Shepherd? Which one?
Do they all have strong track records for taking care of the most vulnerable? Welcoming the stranger and the alien? Especially those that produce most of our food? Are we adequately feeding the hungry before and after they are born? There are still food deserts and food insecurity galore in this land of plenty. We can expect it to get even more critical in the coming months as the half of our citizens that now have NO SAVINGS get even more desperate. Many will likely not have the same jobs to return to. Will Donald and Joe and Nancy and Mitch and Kamala and Bernie and Chuck be able to figure this out?
Well, actually, WE ARE Donald and Joe and Nancy and Mitch and Kamala and Bernie and Chuck? We are them. They are us. This is OUR messy little kingdom and we will be judged collectively. Things will go well before and after the Last Judgement if we can step aside and let Jesus be the Lord of the Universe. God’s Kingdom will look much different than what humans have built.
We do a have some good guidance for our Kingdom-building efforts. We have the corporeal works of mercy which are listed in todays gospel. We have spiritual works of mercy which go beyond one’s most basic needs. We have Catholic Social Teaching which helps us understand how to transform a society, a ‘kingdom’, so that the same people do not stay down and desperate forever. This is called justice and relates closely to the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel.
Today’s second collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development gives us some good concrete working models for how to give people a hand up and not just a handout. This is called systemic change or justice.
We are in a very holy place in human history; one which gives us a chance to practice everything that Jesus teaches us. This is a time when we will most likely get really motivated to do what needs to be done. We are all the poor and the downtrodden who are in perpetual need of corporeal and spiritual nourishment. And we are all the Kingdom builders and the nation teachers. We are all somewhere in this continuum of care and mercy and we can always depend on Jesus who seeks us out to give us, personally, the care we need. Recall the first reading today from the prophet Ezekiel, “I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, ……… but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.”
All is well when we just let Jesus be the Lord of the Universe.
Next Sunday begins a new liturgical year and with it the potential ‘age of a new kingdom’. The season of Advent reminds us that it is in our very nature to be renewed, to let go of some of the old and trust that God is smarter and more powerful any of than us………..individually or collectively.