|Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
|Ez 34:11-12, 15-17||Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6||1 Cor 15:20-26, 28||Mt 25:31-46|
Shepherds and kings, sheep and goats: taking sides
On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the readings celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Mark’s gospel.) The readings ask us to think about shepherds and kings.
In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel addresses the failed Jerusalem leaders (v 17). God holds the leaders responsible for the people’s exile in Babylon. God promises to take back the role of shepherding, rescuing, and judging the people. Christian hearers understand that Jesus, the good shepherd (Jn 10:11), fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy: God has come to care for the people. The Lectionary editors chose this reading (especially Ez 34:16) because it parallels today’s gospel.
In the second reading from his first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul lays out the end-time timeline so the Corinthians can see their place in God’s redemptive plan. Christ, who is already resurrected and therefore the “firstfruit,” has begun his reign as the kingdom’s king and the believing community’s head. During this present time, Christ’s enemies are still active, although “under his feet.” At Christ’s second coming, “those who belong to Christ” will be resurrected. The end follows. Having destroyed every oppressive sovereignty, authority, and power, and overcome all his enemies including death, Christ hands back God’s kingdom to God. Through Christ’s redemptive act, God’s relationship with the redeemed world is once again restored and direct: God is all in all.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus describes how God, shepherd and king, will judge the whole world at the end of time.
- The sorting. First century Palestinian shepherds grazed the sheep and goats together. In the evening, they separated the goats, who were sensitive to cold, from the sheep, who remained out all night. In the gospel, God the Shepherd sorts everyone from all nations, based on their service or love of others.
- The right-side sheep. In the ancient world, the right hand or side is often used symbolically. The king’s right hand is a place of prestige, power, or honor. In Jewish tradition sheep symbolized honor, virility, and strength.
- The left-side goats. In the ancient world, the left hand or side was believed unlucky or evil. The Latin word sinistra means both “left” and “evil;” it is the root of English word sinister. Because soldiers wore shields on their left arms, people thought the left side was weaker and less honorable. The ancients considered goats lascivious; goats symbolized shame and shameful behavior.
- The surprise. Jesus’ hearers would expect that God would reward or punish disciples based on their love of others. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised to learn that God judges not just disciples, but all nations according to the law of love. Even the least one is the same as God, worthy of love and service.
The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider God’s role as shepherd and king. As Ezekiel tell us, God alone shepherds, redeems, and judges the people. Paul describes God’s redemptive plan. Matthew identifies how the king measures each of us. Does the Shepherd see honorable sheep or shameless goats? To which side will the King sort us? Will we be surprised?