Nov 17, 2011

Sunday: The royal call of the King

"Come blessed by my Father . . ."

Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17
1 Cor 15: 2-, 26, 28
Mt 25: 31-46
The name of the English literary character Sherlock Holmes is synonymous with the ultimate in investigative reporting – the effort to solve a murder mystery.  Like most investigators, Mr. Holmes makes every effort to leave no stone unturned. He will question witnesses, examine evidence and never stop until he has come to a conclusion about who committed this terrible crime.  He relentlessly pursues the truth in order to bring closure and find the guilty party.
Often, when he claims he has come to a definitive conclusion as to who the guilty one is, he will gather around him the alleged suspects.  He then begins to tell them how he has come to his final conclusion by reviewing the evidence each of them provided.  As he goes around the circle of seated witnesses, he begins a process of elimination by proclaiming innocent each of the parties involved until he finally comes to the guilty one.  Around the circle he goes:  “innocent, innocent, innocent, and then guilty!”

As we celebrate this Solemn Feast of Christ the King this weekend and close our liturgical year, next weekend’s First Sunday of Advent holds particular significance as the new English translation of the Mass is officially adopted throughout the English speaking world – a very good number of people, numbering in the millions, will now be praying together with one voice at our Eucharist celebrations.  In that same image of the Church united in worship, we find that the Gospel scene of the sheep and the goats may provide us with a good clue similar to the process that old Sherlock used.
The scene in Matthew’s Gospel is one of a vast number of witnesses who stand before the Shepherd King in order to be judged on the level of their innocence or guilt. However, these are not witnesses to a crime.  They are all those who have heard the call of the Shepherd and proclaim to be witnesses to all that Jesus taught.
The scene reminds us that like both sheep and goats, we were scattered and lost before the coming of Christ. In the coming of Christ among us, we see that we have a God who relentlessly pursues us not as suspects in a crime but as those he wants to gather to himself.  In Jesus we see that God has come to us to gather together in one family the lost, the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the stranger and all who find themselves alienated from God. He shows us “the way” to find him and how we as humans should relate to each other as brothers and sisters gathered together not as strangers but as friends. He wants to proclaim our innocence through his own forgiveness and mercy.  
Very clearly the first reading from Ezekiel states about this gathering God: “As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep . . .” (Ez. 34: 11-12). The beautiful image is that of a caring shepherd who searches out his sheep and brings them together as one under his careful watch. So, it is in the Church and so it is with this Shepherd King.
We have heard the last few Sunday’s that Christ will indeed return to this earth at some moment in human history. The last few Sunday’s have reminded us of this in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25: 1-13) and that of the talents (Mt. 25: 14-30).  It could be tomorrow or 40 million years from now. Like that relentless detective, he will return to the scene of the event in order to finally make a judgment upon all the suspects.  How truthful were they?  How loyal to the facts they presented? It is interesting that Matthew uses the example of sheep and goats to portray the believers of Christ.
Sheep are not as unintelligent as we may imagine. They care for their young, they will defend their own when they feel threatened, they recognize their shepherd’s voice and will follow. In the end they are obedient to the call
Goats, on the other hand, are notoriously stubborn.  They are unruly, they care little for their own and basically act on their own behalf with little concern for the others.
We hear that final judgment will come upon us, then, by how compassionate, merciful, self-sacrificing, obedient, and Christ- like we have been to the least of those among us. For this Shepherd King is not distant from his flock – he is within the hearts of all who have heard his voice and there we bring upon ourselves his judgment. 
In the end, the righteous are marked not by degrees or enormous checking accounts but by compassion, mercy, empathy, and acceptance towards the “least of my brothers" (sisters included here).  Not only because it is right and good to help our fellow brother and sister but because in doing so, we are doing the same for Christ himself.  This Shepherd King lives within the hearts of all believers in a personal presence and intimacy that no other religious leader in history has ever or can ever claim. In serving one another in that selfless spirit of generosity and sacrifice, we are imitating Christ Jesus himself and we are in fact serving Christ himself.
How prepared am I to meet this sleuthing God who searches us out more than we search for him.  He calls, he watches, he cares for us in a relentless effort to gather us to himself.  What side do I stand on?  Am I to the right or to the left?
Almighty and merciful God,
you break the power of evil
and make all things new
in your Son, Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.
May all in heaven and earth acclaim your glory