November 22, 2020 The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King (Cycle A)
The tie in between today’s readings: As the Shepherd, So the Sheep
Sheep need a shepherd. I’m not talking about the relatively small population in the wild. They can take care of themselves very well, thank you. I’m referring to the directionless, defenseless, domesticated four-legged balls of wool whose odds of surviving off the ranch would be slim to none. They need a shepherd. Since the dawn of time, we’ve taken on the task of raising them for food and sheering them for fiber. Tending to these grass chompers comes with a side bonus; they’re good for a laugh. Comical stories about dull-witted sheep are common among farmers. Some people defend the poor animals by pointing out the intelligent aspects of their behavior and conclude by saying, “They may be dumb, but they’re not stupid.” Well, OK. The point is that they still need a shepherd. Funny thing, if I’m honest, the “dumb but not stupid” remark resonates a little too close for comfort with me. College grad or not, I still wince when I remember some of the unfathomably numb-skulled antics in my past. I suspect that you may have a few better left forgotten memories yourself. Since dumb intelligence seems to be a common denominator among sheep and men, it is reasonable to concede that we may need a shepherd too. The problem is, like most things in life, there are good ones and bad ones.
You need to start off at the beginning of chapter 34 to grasp the significance of our Old Testament reading today in Ezekiel 34:11-17. The Almighty begins with a scathing diatribe against the political and spiritual rulers of Israel, whom He calls shepherds. These leaders couldn’t care less about their people. God continues the metaphor by accusing them of devouring and fleecing the sheep, letting the sick die, scattering the flock, and leaving the lost to the mercy of predators. A severe judgement is coming for them. In contrast, our reading picks up with the Almighty, acting as the good shepherd. He will find His lost sheep, herd the flock together, treat the injured, and bring them to good pastures. This theme is echoed in another of our readings today, the familiar Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd. God proves once again that if you want something done right, do it yourself. Our reading in Ezekiel ends on a curious note. Beside passing out punishments on the shepherd for their shameful behavior toward the flock, The Lord will also render His judgement on how the sheep treated each other.
Today’s gospel, in Matthew 25:31-46, starts with the Great Roundup. All the people of the world will stand before Jesus Christ, the Supreme Shepherd. His angels will cull the flock of humanity separating the sheep from the goats. The Lord will turn to the sheep of His flock and invite them into His kingdom. The goats will be turned away for punishment. The reason? It seems that their eternal destinies came down to their nature. Apparently, the daily life of a sheep followed the corporal, and without saying, spiritual works of mercies: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned to name a few. The beauty of it all was who they were. No recognition! No rewards! They did it unconsciously. On the other hand, the goats were totally unconscious all together. I’m speculating that the dynamic between the flocks and their shepherds played a big role in this outcome. It boiled down to the voices that they wanted to hear. The goats chose shepherds that would tell their itching ears, as it says in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, the comfortable lies that they craved. With so many clergy willing to oblige them, there was never a shortage of blind guides. They led their flocks in the ways that seemed right to them and thereby kept them trapped in their dumb intelligence. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, told us that His sheep listen to His voice and He gives them eternal life (John 10:11-30). Make sure that you and your pastor are following the Lord on the road less travelled. Be careful who you listen to! Be careful who you follow. Test what they say! Watch what they do! Make sure they know The Way because, when it comes to eternity, as the shepherd, so the sheep. Our epistle in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 sums up the path of the Lord’s flock. First, Christ, lays down His life for His sheep. By faith, we follow Him in the resurrection to eternal life as He, our Shepherd leads the way. At the end, Christ will reign supreme and abolish all His enemies, even death. Once death is dead, He will present all things to His Father. One flock! One Shepherd! We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. One kingdom! One God…as it should be.