A stained-glass window depicting "Christ the King and Lord of the Universe" is seen in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington, Del., May 27, 2021. CNS photo/Chaz Muth

God's Word on Sunday: We will be judged by what we have not done

  • November 26, 2023

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

As the old saying goes, “If you want the job to be done properly, do it yourself!” In the reading from Ezekiel, God seems to have reached that conclusion.

Speaking in the divine voice, the prophecy makes heavy use of the dominant metaphor for the people of God — sheep. They need to be guarded, cared for and protected against predators. This responsibility fell upon those designated as shepherds — the kings, priests and temple personnel of ancient Israel. Some were up to the job, while many others were not. Many of the sheep had been scattered, lost and injured. The wolves had eaten their fill. And many of the so-called shepherds had grown corrupt, rich and all-powerful — all at the expense of the sheep.

There are many denunciations of the bad shepherds sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. Corruption and abuse of power are certainly not recent inventions. But God intended to fire all of the shepherds and take on the job Himself. God would seek the sheep out and gather them in, protecting them and healing them of their wounds. God would exercise compassionate care towards the flock and act as judge of the flock. The people of God would be guided by God rather than humans.

This passage resonates with the challenges of Church life today. Many shepherds have indeed been derelict in their duties and have not shown compassion and justice towards their flocks. Some have grown rich and powerful. And still others have inflicted great personal harm on some of the flock, either from sexual abuse or harsh and insensitive pastoral care. The age of blindly and uncritically following authority figures or institutions is rapidly passing away. Shepherds are human like everyone else. Bearing a particular title does not automatically make one a better person. It is time for people to claim their right to be governed and guided by God and the Lord Jesus. No one can deny us that right or block our access to God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. He is totally trustworthy and concerned for us, and He is the one whom we should be following in a personal relationship.  

The unfinished condition of our world and the delay in the return of Jesus have perplexed and frustrated many. When is it going to happen — and is it even going to happen? Paul was confronting the same sorts of questions in the Corinthian community. Redemption of the world is a process, and as such it is not yet finished. When Jesus rose from the dead, the end-time clock started ticking. He is engaged in a huge mopping-up operation, subduing and subjecting all the powers and forces that are opposed to God. In the end, God will be in total and direct control. In the meantime, we need to stand firm in our faith and to take an active part in the spiritual drama unfolding in our world.  

Who is right with God? The parable of the final judgment has many surprises. First of all, no one was asked to produce a membership card. The judge was not concerned about what labels people wore, for labels are human creations. Nor were the deeds for which the righteous were praised and admitted to God’s kingdom religious in nature. They were very practical sorts of things: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and visiting the sick and those in prison. They were unaware that they had done anything special — it was their immediate and spontaneous response to human distress and need.

Those who were denied access to God’s kingdom were not condemned for anything that they had done but for those things they had not done. They had been unmoved by human suffering and need and were cocooned in their own self-absorbed version of reality. They may have been upright and God-fearing people according to their own lights but not by God’s light. In this parable, Jews, Gentiles and Christians were all judged by the same standard: active and aware compassion.

Perhaps this is a way forward in our chaotic world that is divided by so many “isms.” Pay little attention to what people say or claim, but look to their deeds, especially to the weak, vulnerable, suffering and those in need.