Kingship is a big biblical theme. In the Scriptures, God constantly both amplifies and transforms our understanding of kingship. God’s kingship is more than we can imagine. What could be a greater display of majesty than the image of the final judgment in our gospel today! All the nations are brought before Christ and he separates out those destined for eternal life and those destined for eternal punishment. In the end, the whole of the cosmos is under his sway. As St Paul tells us and as the whole of the Bible tells us, in the end, God will be all in all. God will create a new heaven and a new earth. And that which is part of Christ, that which has Christ as its life, will be part of this new creation. And that which does not, will not.
But God also transforms our understanding of kingship. In both our first reading and our Gospel, we have the image of the shepherd. This is a central motif of kingship throughout the Bible. We have David the archetypal king, who is a shepherd. We have Jesus telling us about the Good Shepherd. And in Ezekiel, God gets rid of all the false shepherds, the false kings, and cares for his flock himself. Rescuing them from darkness and confusion. Healing them. Feeding them. Guarding them.
This image of the shepherd king is worth tracking through the scriptures. For example, we remember elsewhere Jesus telling us that his sheep know his voice and they come to him. When we compare this to today’s reading, there seems on the surface to be a contradiction. The sheep seem no different from the goats: neither have recognised the shepherd. So how does this make sense?
Perhaps one answer is that word “nations”. Our gospel is about the judgment of the nations. The nations are the gentiles, those outside of Israel, those outside of the Church. Perhaps then this gospel is telling us about the fate of those who are not baptised, those who are not part of the visible Church. So, then what about the visible Church? What about us?
Through our baptism, through the Scriptures, through the sacraments, through the teaching of the Church: we know the voice of the Lord. In our prayer, we are familiar with Christ, familiar as in family. Indeed, through baptism, we already share in Christ’s kingship. Christ has already entrusted us with the role of shepherding the universe into the new creation. Through our baptism, today’s gospel then is taken for granted. Of course, we must feed the hungry. Of course, we must give shelter to the homeless. Of course, we must clothe the naked and visit those in prisons, prisons of whatever kind. If we were not doing these things, how could we pray the our Father? How could we ask in justice for our daily bread?
As Christians, though, we have passed beyond this bare minimum. We have been entrusted with Christ himself. We are no longer thinking of what happens to me. We are thinking of love of God and love of neighbour.
The love of God. We know that Christ came to call sinners, so we already know that we are in need of Christ’s mercy. That is why each day we examine our lives and we hand everything over to Christ. We ask him to throw away whatever is worthless, and transform anything that can be saved and made part of the kingdom. We ask that this final judgment happen at every moment. We trust in Christ’s kingship shown on the Cross. The love by which he became one of us to seek us out. The love by which he died for us all while we are sinners. The love who he is. And so we trust his judgment to purify us.
And love of neighbour. We know that Christ seeks to become incarnate in us to reach out into the world. To transform the universe through the Holy Spirit as he transforms us in the Mass. We therefore know that it is our solemn duty to speak in his voice so that others might come to know him. Might come to know him and receive baptism themselves, that they too might become kings and queens, shepherds who echo the voice of the Master.
We know that we have been entrusted with Christ’s teachings through the Church. A treasure that is not ours. One we cannot change. The sheep do not want my voice. They want Christ’s. And it is our duty to give him to them. Not how we think we want him, but how he gives himself. This is my body. This is my blood.
So, let’s pray today for the Church. For us. May we be shepherds after the pattern of Christ the King. Let us pray that we not be tempted to substitute our words for his. Fake food for real sustenance.
Let’s pray that God will every day separate out from us what is not of the kingdom, so that we might become real food for the starving. And in a special way, let’s pray for those who will make their first communion this week. Let’s pray that God will be all in all, and soon