Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 26: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

At the evening of life

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

This is the final Sunday in the church’s liturgical year. Next Sunday begins Advent and a new “church year” will be under way. The church names this climactic Sunday the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” So what are the final thoughts we Christians are encouraged to think about as we mark this moment in time?

The readings for this Sunday point us in the right direction. The first reading and the responsorial psalm both draw on the traditional biblical image of God as “shepherd.” Our God is not a royal potentate, sitting on a bejeweled throne, courtiers at his beck and call, surrounded by the trappings of power. God himself and Jesus his son are powerful but not in the manner of human monarchs. 

Ezekiel describes God’s provident care for his “sheep” with tenderness: “I will rescue them from every dark place. …” “I myself will give them rest. …” “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal.”

That tone of compassionate love is echoed in the response psalm for this Sunday, one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Besides restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. …” “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”

These readings are obviously paired with the Gospel selection, the famous judgment scene from Matthew’s Gospel. What will the end be like, Jesus asks his disciples, and to answer that question proceeds to tell his parable of the sheep and the goats.

When all the nations stand before the Risen Christ, how will they be sorted out? I think of the quotation from the medieval Spanish mystic John of the Cross: “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” Should this be a surprise? With a God whom the Bible describes as a compassionate and loving shepherd? With the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ mission as one of healing and forgiveness and compassion? One sent to reveal, in the words of John’s Gospel, “How God so loved the world that he sent his only son, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus’ parable tells us our fidelity is measured by the consistency of our love, especially for those most in need, the most vulnerable and neglected: giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner. 

John of the Cross was right: We will be judged on our love by a God who embodies love. Thus the message of the Scriptures on this climatic Sunday takes us to the deepest level of our Christian faith: the mystery of God’s love for us and the call for us to live our own lives in that same spirit of loving service. 

Today’s second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians also draws us into the heart of the matter. In this part of his letter, Paul has been responding to questions raised by the Corinthians about the meaning of resurrection — a question we all ponder. Here Paul speaks of Jesus as one who leads the way into the fullness of life for us. Jesus, too, experiences death, as all humans do, but, through the power of God’s overwhelming love, Jesus defeats the power of death and is raised to new and abundant life, life beyond our imagining. Paul uses a striking image: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” In the wake of that defeat of death, “God will be all in all.”  

For Christian faith, love is both the beginning and the end of the human story. We were created out of love and through love we will be given life unending. That is the church’s end-of-the-year thought.