The Shepherd King
When someone says the word “king,” what do you think of? Do you picture an elaborately-dressed and bejeweled ruler sitting on a stately throne and delivering powerful political and military decrees? Or perhaps you think of some of the modern European monarchs who aren't much more than figureheads in their countries?
The Jews of Jesus' day were expecting a king. They thought their Messiah was going to be a powerful political and military ruler who would free Israel from foreign domination. They certainly were not looking for the kind of Messiah-King that God actually sent.
What do you think of when you hear “Christ the King”?
Today's readings paint a portrait of the kind of king that Jesus is for God's people. Let's take a look at some of our King's characteristics.
First Reading – Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Our King is a Shepherd Who tends His flock with loving care. He tends us Himself. He rescues those who are scattered and lost. He provides nourishing pastures and quiet rest. He binds up the injured and heals the sick. He also judges between the sheep. Some of them, the sleek and strong, He will even destroy.
This last statement seems out of place, doesn't it? Why will this good, caring Shepherd destroy some of His sheep? One commentator explains that sleek and strong sheep are those who “are full of themselves, lifted up with pride, conceited with their riches or righteousness, and despise others, whom they thrust with side and shoulder, and push with their horns.” The Hebrew word for “destroy” here can point to death, but it could also indicate bringing to nought or overthrowing. Could it be, then, that the Shepherd King is overthrowing those sleek, strong sheep in order to humble them? And when they are humbled, might they perhaps be better able to appreciate the nourishing pastures and quiet rest their King provides?
Today's psalm continues to describe the Shepherd King. He offers us rest in green pastures. He refreshes our souls, guides us along right paths, nourishes us at a table that He spreads before us, anoints us with oil, and provides us a house in which to dwell with Him.
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Our second reading offers us a slightly different picture of Jesus Christ as King. Here we see the risen Christ Who puts all His enemies under His feet, in a place of subjection. He even destroys death. And when He is finished, when He has won His final victory, He will hand His kingdom over to His Father, and God will be all in all.
Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46
The Gospel reading returns our attention to Jesus, our Shepherd King. Now, however, we see Jesus performing His role as judge of His sheep and separating them from the goats. He places the sheep on His right, in a place of honor, for they were the ones who acted compassionately toward their neighbors and thereby acted compassionately toward Him. They are welcomed into eternal life. The goats He sends away to eternal punishment, for they ignored the needs and pains of their neighbors and thereby ignored Him. They have condemned themselves by their failure to love, by their failure to imitate their caring, loving, gentle Shepherd King.