We pray these days with the sense that we belong to Christ’s kingdom, family, and or flock. We pray with the challenges implied and expected by belonging to Him. We pray as well for the humility to be surprised by the many ways Jesus comes toward us and invites us to tend to His many faces.
God makes a salutary boast and commitment. God will replace the former shepherds with God’s own personal care. God will find the lost, heal the injured, rejoin the scattered. The “sleek” the “strong” God will destroy. They will be judged rightly, because they have made self-establishing choices. They have become accustomed to choosing themselves and they get what they have desired, themselves.
“The Last Judgment!” The Final Exam and guess what, we have had the questions for a long time. The Gospel is quite familiar to us and can inspire fear, but is set at the end of this section of Matthew as more of a “Last Discourse” similar to John’s chapters 13 through 17, both followed by accounts of Jesus’ passion. These famous verses are not so much an indictment, but an endorsement of the ways of the King and the King’s followers.
The King and the Shepherd have the same intension. The “sleek” pass quickly by the King dressed in the tatters of the needy, lost, lonely, abandoned, and misjudged. Their sleek eyes watch for those who can fulfill their own needs for the sleeker, slicker life. They are judged as goats, because they judged others as unworthy. They saw the hurt as a painful bother to themselves. They heard the cry of the imprisoned as an annoyance to their strong sense of justice. They avoided the hungry so as not to be interrupted at their feastings of plenty. They shunned the naked, lest their fine clothing feel a bit tight around the collar.
It isn’t so much that Jesus, as King is judge, but rather the One Who deals out what human beings lived for and against. What Jesus is saying is: “You didn’t want to be associated with My kind of people while on earth, so you 'sleek' fat cats, deserve your kind of people.” Is that hard-sounding?
In John’s Final Discourse, we hear lines about loving one another as Jesus’ final commandment. These verses are the same in a sense. They are just more fleshly, timely, and specific. Jesus told His disciples to wash each other’s feet. Matthew is more dramatic and challenging. Matthew is also more directly personal about whose feet, face, body is being touched. Jesus is saying He is in the flesh and spirit of the condemned murderer. He is in the hungry stomach of the orphan. He walks within the homeless person who lives under the bridges. He is what is different in the person of a different language, color, clothing than the “usual”.
The “sheep” who are welcomed into the blessed Kingdom of the Father are those who extended the touch of the King, who were shepherds of the lost, the hungry, the sick, the needy, they who lived His ways of washing feet and fulfilling the great Command, they get what they too deserve.
The King has dressed in His many presentations of those who could not flatter. He was not entitled. He allowed the opportunity to be seen in what looked like someone, something else. The King, who presents Himself within what appears to be simple bread and wine, makes His real appearances in the un-regal, but real faces of what looks like simple flesh.
Last Lent I was walking with a Jesuit friend of mine who was telling me about his decision to live this section of the Gospel more costly. When leaving for a walk in his city, he would take some of his allowance and if asked for a handout, he would give of what he had. While we were walking, (believe it or not), two men asked for ten dollars to go and buy some gas for their car which was “right over there.”
So he gave them the ten dollars and they promised to return with the gas from the station two blocks away. Very generous, I thought and quite trusting. He prodded me to cross the street. I resisted and said that it would be better to wait right there. He laughed and quietly said,“They’re not coming back. I didn’t lend them the money; I gave it to them. Let’s go.” He laughed every time I turned back to see if those two would be looking for us. This is a difficult exam for us to pass with high grades. We have the questions, but our answers are not always constant and compassionate. The King is though and so we celebrate His merciful ways and His constant calling for us to see beyond what we think we are seeing.
“The Lord will reign for ever and will give His people the gift of peace.” Ps. 29
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