Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”

Reflection on the Gospel

Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.

This solemnity offers us a very challenging theme upon which to reflect, namely, kingship. For many people, kingship evokes images of oppressive domination, unearned opulence, and an undeserved sense of superiority. They cringe before aspects of royal protocol that seem to
demean them. Perhaps originating in an experience of kingship in their history, such an understanding is quite distasteful. Both the reading from Ezekiel and the verses from the psalm sketch an entirely different image of kingship.

In ancient Israel, the king was characterized as a shepherd who was attentive to the flock, including those sheep who wandered away. This characterization was probably a vestige of the people’s nomadic past. They would have experienced how attached a shepherd can be to the
flock. As for the sheep, it is well known that they can indeed recognize the sound of their shepherd. This relationship was often quite intimate. The last verse of the Ezekiel reading links that passage to the gospel reading: “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats” (v.17). The text states that there will be judgment, but it will be conducted by one who has the kind-heartedness of a shepherd.

In the gospel reading, the Son of Man appears in glory and seated on a throne. From there, as a shepherd-king, he separates his flock and passes judgment on them. By what standard is the flock judged? By the standard of social justice. Have they cared for those among them who were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill, in prison? They are further told by the Son of Man, who here judges as the shepherd-king, that to care for those in need is to care for him. The nature of the intimacy between this shepherd-king, this Son of Man, and his flock is clarified in startling terms: ‘Whatever you did for one of these…you did for me.” Those who acted in this way are invited into the kingdom prepared by the Father.

One might wonder how we got from Christ the King to matters of social justice. The Christ, the Son of Man, is a shepherd-king, who is tenderly attentive to his flock. The person standing at the road intersection with a plea for food scribbled on a scrap of cardboard, the immigrant family
fleeing their home and seeking a better life, the broken person who has been bought and sold for purposes of work or for abuse, those helplessly shackled in poverty – this is the flock of the shepherd-king; these are the sheep he holds close to his heart. He is a shepherd-king who has identified with his flock. If we want to get close to him, we will have to go through them. If we seek to honor him, we must attend to the needs of the others. The kingdom is populated by people who have learned to care for the flock as the shepherd-king does. As we celebrate this shepherd-king, we must also commit ourselves to caring for the needy people of his flock.

Dianne Bergant, CSA, is the Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament
Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.