November 23, 2014
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32 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.
33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' 40 And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' 44 Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' 45 He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' 46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
The last Sunday of the Liturgical Year is always the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King. The gospel for last Sunday prepared us for this text, which is an image of the end time when all will come before God. The parable of the master who gave his three servants talents to use while he was absent asks the Christian community to recognize that they have been richly blessed beyond their wildest dreams and to reflect on how they have used those blessings.
Equally important to what has gone before this gospel text is what follows in Matthew’s gospel. From this point forward, the final events of Jesus’ life will be described. Matthew begins the next chapter “When Jesus finished all these words, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. But they said, ‘not during the festival, that there may not be a riot among the people,” (Matthew 26:1-5) The next thing Matthew describes is the anointing of Jesus’ head with costly perfumed oil. Jesus remarks that this had been done in preparation for his burial. As Matthew unfolds the events of Jesus’ passion and death, the vision of Christ as King stands in stark contrasts to the events that will follow. There is a contradiction between who Jesus really is and the events of his last days. That contradiction can help the disciples live faithfully with the contradictions in their own lives.
The image of a shepherd separating sheep and goats would be familiar to people in Matthew’s community. Sheep and goats were the first animals to be domesticated. During the day they were pastured together. At night the sheep could be out in the cold but goats needed to be brought inside to protect them from the cold. Sheep, when slaughtered, seemed to accept their fate and did not cry out. This was looked upon as a manly quality to be able to endure the hardships of life without complaint.
The “sheep” are gathered on the favored right side because they are more valuable. The criteria for being on the right or the left are not prayer, ritual observance, belief, or even outstanding generosity or compassion. Being counted among the favored requires that one have provided the most basic of human needs for another: food, water, clothing, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Even though both the blessed and the accursed did not recognize Jesus; he identifies himself with the “least brothers.”
Earlier in the gospel, Jesus states that those who receive his disciples as they go about preaching will be rewarded. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple--amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) There is also a sense in Matthew that those who come in the name of God come with the authority of the one who sends them. "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40) Here, the text suggests that caring for the needs of the little ones or choosing to ignore their need is taken, by Christ, as a sign of one’s acceptance/rejection of His Kingdom.
1. Try to imagine the scene as Matthew describes it in the first two verses of the text: The Son of Man in glory, all the angels are present, the throne, and every person of every nation is assembled. What image goes to mind? If you were a great artist and commissioned to do the ceiling of a great church, where would you start? What would be your focus?
2. Who are the “least" in your world, your neighborhood, and your church community? Who are the people in your local community who know their faces, their names and their stories? Do you think at least some of them might be surprised to know that Jesus holds them up as models for holiness? Should they be surprised?
3. Why is it that both those who are called “blessed” and those who are called “accursed” did not recognize the Lord in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, or the naked? Does God keep God’s presence a secret intentionally?
4. “… Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” What kind of relationship does God seem to have with those who are thirsty, hungry, naked, and strangers?
5. Do you ever read the Catholic Church social encyclicals, or the lives of people who have made a difference to the poor?
6. How is this text helping you to celebrate Christ the King?
On Wednesday of each week, the Gospel and reflection questions for the upcoming Sunday are posted at the following link. http://il-ritiro.org/gospel-reflections.aspx
. You are invited also to share your reflection and comments with others at this website.
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.
They are translated into Spanish by Fernando Alessandrini.
Please include this information when printing or forwarding.