Ezekiel 34:1-2,15-17 + Psalm 23 + 1 Corinthians 15: 2-26 + Matthew 25: 31-46
November 26, 2023 at St William Church in Naples, FL
We have spent a year since last November with Matthew’s Gospel and its emphasis on God’s Kingdom. It is then no surprise that near the end a King emerges whose rule is defined in terms of judgement. A ruler has the power to separate good from evil. A ruler establishes the rules and enforces them. But, there is surprise in this scene over how this works out. We close this year of Matthew with the last thing Jesus has to say to us. Jesus is already in Jerusalem, and his enemies are meeting to destroy him. It is a solemn moment and these are serious words. No longer does he speak with the image and language of parables. Now it is straightforward with a direct, unmistakable revelation from God.
We get three images of Jesus Christ. They are all important. This is not an either-or choice. These images reveal Christ as he is today. A Kingdom has a King, but this King is not going to be like any other King. He may well be powerful, but he is merciful. This no warrior King who destroys and then rides gloriously into town with the spoils of war. This King in Matthew’s Gospel has been sorting out divine judgment all along. Wheat verses chaff, fruitful tree versus the unfruitful, houses built on rock versus those built on sand, weeds or wheat, good fish and bad fish, those with wedding garments or those without, those with enough oil and those without, and now he separates once more, but he separates like a Shepherd.
This second image continues to reveal Christ as he is today. This Shepherd/King’s power comes from intimate union knowing each one by name, and a life of love that includes laying down his life. This power is different from the monarch removed from his people. The only way to be lost or condemned by this King is to reject the shepherds love. Such people seal their own fate and chose to be separated for all time from this empowering love.
A third image may at first be less noticeable, but Matthew introduces that third image of the King when it’s time for the judgement. When the King says: “Whatever you did to the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Or “Whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” With that, we get the third image that reveals Christ as he is today. I can never get away from two sayings that must connect: “I will not leave you” and “The poor you will always have with you.” There is something being implied by those sayings.
What emerges from this final scene in Matthew’s Gospel is a clue on how and where to find Christ today along with a revelation about how the final judgement will go for us. There will be no quiz about how often we went to Church, how many commandments we broke or kept. No one is asked about their marital fidelity, sexual purity or their prayers. What does concern the King, the Shepherd, and the needy is how the saddest members of the society were treated. Matthew leaves us with an image of Christ, born into a refugee family on run from King Herod; abandoned, alone, poor, naked, ridiculed, and even buried in a stranger’s tomb. There is the image of Christ today. Our place in his Kingdom will be determined by our ability to reach beyond ourselves to bring justice, peace and reconciliation into the lives of everyone.