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God's Word on Sunday: Justice, mercy are God’s ruling principles

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  • November 15, 2020

Christ the King (Year A) Nov. 22 (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46)

Sometimes the only way to ensure that an important job is done correctly is to do it yourself. God usually called on others to carry out the divine will, but often they failed miserably in the performance of their duties.

Many of the kings of Israel and the ruling elites had proven themselves corrupt and unfaithful. They led the nation into idolatry and dubious alliances with other powers. The poor were crushed and at the mercy of the wealthy and powerful. The shared communal life of ancient Israel, based on justice and equality, was no longer the norm. Ezekiel labelled these kings and the ruling elites as bad shepherds. The shepherds were supposed to care for the entire flock, not just the few. The well-being of the flock was to be their chief concern. Instead, they had served themselves and their friends at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.

It is an old story and continues to this day, in government, business, society and religion. True power is compassionate, just and kind. Perverted power dominates and exploits the weaker and has no place in God’s realm.

God declared in Ezekiel’s prophecy that He was going to take on the role of Israel’s shepherd. God would seek out the scattered and lost wherever they were and lead them back. God would also bind up and comfort the injured and the weak and feed them with justice. But the strong and corrupt would not fare well. God would judge them not only for their mistreatment of those in their care, but for the scorn and disrespect they had shown to God’s trust.

The theme of the shepherd seeking out the lost and providing for the flock was applied to Jesus in the New Testament, most notably in John 10 and Luke 15. Rather than trusting in systems and institutions, we would be better off allowing ourselves to be governed and guided by the Lord, who will never let us down.

Paul describes the Resurrection in terms of cosmic warfare. As one guided by the apocalyptic theology of his day, Paul believed that the Earth had been taken over by powers hostile to God and was out of control. Some of these powers were human, others were non-physical and transcendent. Christ was in the process of subduing all these powers and subjecting them to Himself and then to God the Father. The last and most powerful of these enemies of God was death, which had met its match in Jesus, the life-giving spirit.

We can be reassured that God is ultimately in charge of our world. Despite appearances at times, the ruling principle of our world is God’s justice and mercy.

This is evident in Matthew’s vivid account of the final judgment. Those judged worthy of admittance to the kingdom were those showing care and compassion for others. They were deemed worthy for giving food, drink and clothing to the poor and destitute, as well as visiting those sick or imprisoned and welcoming strangers. They had no recollection of having done those things to the king, but he was adamant: whatever you did to the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable, you did to me. Nothing on the list of virtuous deeds and attitudes was explicitly religious in nature but consisted of hands-on, practical compassion. They saw human need and suffering and acted accordingly.

Love of God cannot be separated from love of others. The others were rejected not for what they had done, but for what they had failed to do. They did not do any of the things on that same list, but indignantly demanded to know when they had failed to do these things to the king. Their “conscience” was clear. The answer was the mirror of the first group — when you failed to do those things to the weak, poor and vulnerable, you failed to do them to me.

Sins of omission are the deadliest, for we can be lulled into a complacent sense that everything is fine, even when it is definitely not. Indifference to the needs of others reflects a deficient and self-centred moral and spiritual sense. Every person we encounter is an opportunity to honour God with the highest form of worship and the one most pleasing to God — compassionate care for others.

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