I.Theme – Images of Christ the King– Shepherd (one who guides, takes care of restores, rules), Arbiter of justice
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
We have 4 key images this week in “Christ the King Sunday” – God as Shephard (Ezekiel, Matthew), God as rescuer and restorer (Ezekiel), God as King (Psalm), God as judge (Ezekiel, Matthew)
Ezekiel describes God as a shepherd whose love embraces most particularly the lean and oppressed among the flock. God will gather them up, restore them to health, and liberate them from all persecution.
Ezekiel 34 reminds us that while all people are the sheep and God is the shepherd, while God is seeking all of the lost, the least, and the scattered, God will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep; in other words, the judgment is on us, now.
Ezekiel’s words are particularly threatening to those who practice economic and relational oppression. They feast on green pastures now, but will eventually receive divine judgment.
But in this passage of judgment, the sheep are not cast out, but rather, made “right.” In other words, judgment in this passage is not about punishment but about putting right what has been wrong. It is about lifting up the poor, not punishing the rich. It is about all having enough to eat. This is the judgment Ezekiel shares, after all the people of Israel have been through, after their leaders failed and the poor were forgotten, all suffered, and with God’s Good Shepherd, all will be restored. This is the reign of the Good Shepherd.
Matthew also uses a shepherd image but rather than restoration, there is separation, in this case the sheep from the goats. On judgment day the righteous, the blessed ones, will be separated from the unrighteous, the cursed ones, the goats. The righteous are blessed because they are compassionate, a compassion that is theirs in Christ. The righteous receive their reward because of their faith and not of their works (living).
However, we should be careful how we live that faith. We are called to a living faith, a way of life that embodies our relationship with God in all that we do. It’s about discipleship. We do not do good works to get into heaven, nor do we simply pray a prayer of salvation to get into heaven. Rather, it is about a transformation that takes place, and that transformation is manifested in us when we see Christ in the needs of others–in the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. , Jesus declares that there is a judgment, and the judgment is based on how we live out our faith. We separate ourselves based on our actions
Do we live our lives as participants in the reign of God now or are we fattening up for a future time? Are we doing our part to also seek the lost, the least, and the scattered, or are we concerned with our own well-being only?
Psalm 95:1-7a is a psalm of thanksgiving, remembering that God is the Good Shepherd. As congregations in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday, we give thanks to God for all of creation. We give thanks for all God has done and continues to do in our world. Psalm 100 echoes almost word for word this song of thanksgiving and understanding of God as shepherd, and the people being the sheep of God’s pasture.
In Ephesians 1:15-23 Christ is the ultimate ruler, the fulfillment of all things. Christ is above any authority ever conceived and is the ultimate authority, and all things fall under Christ, and yet the church, the body of Christ, is the fulfillment of Christ on earth.
We are part of the body of Christ, we are the Church. We are part of God’s Pasture, for we are God’s sheep. And so are all people on the earth, part of God’s Pasture. We are called by Christ the King, the Sovereign, the Good Shepherd, to be part of one body. We are called to seek restoration and healing to look after the “least of these”. We are called to seek justice that is restorative, not retributive, as God’s justice is not in part, but in whole. God is redeeming and restoring the world.
Old Testament – Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The passage from Ezekiel is chosen as a reading for Christ the King as Christians see Christ as the descendant of David and heir to his throne in the realm of God. In celebrating Christ’s kingship in this context, then, the character of that kingship is marked by love and justice, not power merely.
The Ezekiel reading accords well with the Gospel for the day, with both speaking of separating the sheep from the goats, and in Ezekiel, the fat sheep from the lean sheep. In both, the doing of justice and care for the needy is the litmus test for God’s blessing or judgment on the peoples and leaders.
Rulers in the Near East had long seen themselves as shepherds of their subjects. Ezekiel was sent by God to prophesy against Israel’s kings, who had misused their people and were responsible for scattering them. The kings had taken the plenty of the land for themselves, rather than sharing it with their subjects.
The shepherd-kings have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, brought back the strayed, or sought the lost (v. 4). Instead of feeding the sheep, they have made sure that they fed themselves
Their actions demonstrate the lack of care, together with the observation that the sheep were scattered over the face of the earth, which becomes the reason for the indictment of the leaders as described in vv.7-10. Some had dispersed around the Mediterranean; others were deported to Babylon; those left at home were no better off. In foreign lands, they have fallen prey to pagan beliefs. Rulers too are subject to God’s law: they are individually responsible for the mess.
So God will step in as the new Shepherd of this traumatized flock and rescue his sheep. The metaphor of the sheep is extended to symbolize the return of the captives, the healing of those who are injured. The picture of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep is one picked up again in the New Testament.
A wonderful catena of promises spills forth: God will seek the lost and bring them home, feed them with rich pasture, and make them lie down in safety. God’s rule over the community of faith is full of healing and justice, not exploitative in the way that human power so often is. In fact, God’s nurture involves putting an end to the threat of exploitation and harm. The imagery is pastoral, reminiscent of Psalm 23, with the sheep being led by watercourses, and being made to lie down in good grazing land.
The word of the Lord is not comfort only, but also includes judgment, as the ‘fat and the strong’ are to be destroyed. The sheep are to be fed on justice, with God’s promise of restoration to the land that had been taken from them.
This theme of grace mixed with judgment also permeates vv. 17-19 which are left out in the lectionary. The attention in those verses shifts from the corrupt shepherd-kinds to the equally corrupt or fat sheep-citizens, whose lack of faith is shown by the way they treat their fellow citizens. In many ways these verses form a parallel to Matthew 25:31-46, the Gospel for Christ the King, where the Son of Man distinguishes between the goats and the sheep on the basis of their deeds of social compassion toward the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned
God’s nurture involves putting an end to the threat of exploitation and harm.
A common theme in Ezekiel is that not everyone who experiences the new exodus will also experience the new entrance into the land God will judge, and differentiate between, the “fat sheep” (v. 20, the overfed rich oppressors, the ungodly) and the “lean” (the underfed poor oppressed, the godly).
Food is justice. “I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged” (v. 22). The sheep must behave properly, and submit to “one shepherd” (v. 23), a descendant of “David”, whom God will place over them. He will “make with them a covenant of peace” (v. 25) and will bring prosperity and safety from attack by other nations; then Israel will truly know her God. Jesus built on this passage to express the nature of his mission
Here Ezekiel satirizes any complacency on the part of "sheep" who might have dared to become overconfident in the images of God’s loving care
God shows particular care for the weak and hungry, the injured and straying sheep, and expects those in leadership to exercise a similar care for those in need. Power brings with it the expectation of acting justly, and certain judgment for neglecting the duties that are inherent in the office of king or leader.
In the final two verses , God the shepherd promises to set up a human shepherd, "my servant David," over them. This messianic promise institutes a reformed kingship that will replace the evil shepherds mentioned in vv. 1-10. Scholars debate whether Ezekiel predicted only a better king or whether he might even have expected a return of David himself.
Verse 24 makes clear that David’s kingship will be under the authority of God; indeed, God will be king, with David as ‘prince’ among the people. Thus David will be able to rule with justice, remembering that God is the judge of all people, even (and perhaps especially) those holding authority over others
Ezekiel changes this formula by replacing its second part with "my servant David shall be prince among them." Significantly Ezekiel does not call the new human ruler a king, but uses instead an old term, here translated as prince The prince in a reformed Israel has few duties, and his primary perquisite is that he gets the best seat in the house at future religious celebrations (44:3).
Psalm – Psalm 95:1-7a Page 724, BCP
Psalm 95 appears in a grouping of psalms that focus on the reign of God (Psalms 93, 95-99).
These psalms are sometimes categorized as "enthronement psalms" because of their focus on God’s eternal kingship.
This psalm and the larger group of enthronement psalms appear in a section of the book of Psalms (Book IV, Psalms 90-106) that seems to be organized to deal with the theological crisis of the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.E. The theological crisis is expressed in many of the psalms that precede this section (Book III, Psalms 73-89). Such psalms painfully related doubts about Israel’s core beliefs (the central role of Jerusalem and the Davidic king in God’s plan, for example). But Psalm 95 along with the other enthronement psalms reminded those who doubted that God was still in control, that God was still "a great King above all gods" (verse 3).
Psalm 95 contains two calls to praise and worship God that provide structure to the work (verses 1, 6).
Psalm 95 teaches us that worship is not incidental; it is fundamental. It is not peripheral, but primary. We should worship God because He is worthy of it. We should worship God because He desires it (John 4:23-24). We should worship because God commands it (Ps. 95:1-7). We should worship God because to fail to worship hardens our hearts, leads to dissatisfaction and disobedience and ultimately to discipline.
Verse 1 begins specifically with the imperative "Come!" Then a string of invitations for praise and worship: "let us sing;" "let us make a joyful noise;" "let us come into his presence;" "let us make a joyful noise."
Worship is encourage in the collective. While worship may be done privately, it is not viewed as such here
Second, the worship promoted here is vocal. Too often we think of worship not only as private, but as silent. We are told to sing a song “worshipfully” and we know that this means we are to sing slowly and quietly
Third, the terms used in the first two verses speak of vocal praise that is vibrant and vigorous. It is a joyful, grateful praise. It is not a subdued, somber praise, but an exuberant expression of worship. It conveys intense feeling, most often joyful, but occasionally that of sorrow. This was done in anticipation of a battle or a triumph. It was done at the coronation of Saul
Finally, the joyful, exuberant praise of verses 1 and 2 is God-centered. Thanksgiving can mean a type of song or a type of offering for God
Verses 3-5 give reasons for the praise called for in verses 1-2.
The most basic reason for praising God is that God is "a great King above all gods" (verse 3). He is master and ruler of the universe, for he is creator. God is greater than the false “gods” which the heathen worship. (“Great King” was a title of emperors in the ancient Near East)
The elements under God’s control are listed so as to make a comprehensive statement: the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains, the sea, and the dry land all are in God’s hands. In fact, verse 4 begins and verse 5 ends with reference to "his hands" to make this statement emphatic. This emphasizes the totality of his creation and control of the earth, not just in the past, but now.
The second major portion of the psalm begins also with an imperative "O come" (though with a different word than in verse 1). Change of tone, from exuberant, enthusiastic praise to awe-inspired prostration
The key word that characterizes the first five verses is praise, while the theme of verses 6 and 7 is summarized by prostration. Worship, then, involves both animated praise and speechless prostration
God is “our Maker.” Not only is God the Creator of the heavens and the earth (vv. 4-5), He is also man’s Creator
Just as God controls the earth which He created (vv. 4-5), so He also Shepherds His people, which He brought into existence as her Maker
The idea that God is a shepherd complements the earlier declaration that God is king. Ancient Near Eastern people often described their monarchs as their shepherds. Pharaoh was sometimes depicted with a shepherd staff in his hand. . The goal of the psalm seemed to be 95:7a: listen to the Word proclaimed.
Epistle – Ephesians 1:15-23
The letter to the Ephesians dates from a time when the new Jesus communities are making their own transitions, the time when the expected second coming of Christ is taking longer than expected and the first generation of apostles is ending with the glory still to come. This is a lonely place, prone to doubts.
Two things about the Ephesian Christians were controversial pieces: (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love to all the saints.
He commended his hearers for their faith, and linking it to love their fellows and prayer that their hope may be nourished, may be nurtured, may be completed in God. Faith, in the sense of dependence on Christ, is the only necessary requirement for salvation. One of the unmistakable signs of the new birth is one’s conduct toward “all the saints.”
Paul now outlines his prayer. The prayer is directed to God who is described as both the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and the glorious one. The title "Father" defines God’s substantial relationship with Jesus.
Paul prays that his readers may receive, from the Holy Spirit, spiritual wisdom and revelation. Wisdom and revelation come to us only by intimate associations with our Lord. Revelation” is the important word here, for revelation is the key to all knowledge. The ministry and office work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to the Christian the meaning of all truth, whether historical or prophetical
Paul requests for the saints the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ that they might know three things:
– in spiritual growth (“hope”)
He has called us to a completed righteousness and to the completed redemption of our bodies. He does not call a believer to hope for the forgiveness of his sins: they are gone. The hope of His calling is to see Him and be one with Him. One day our Lord will come again, and we shall all be changed to see Him as He is and to be like Him.
– the “glorious inheritance” Gentile Christians now share with their Jewish brethren
Here Paul prays that we might have a full appreciation of our worth to God. Paul would have us appreciate our dignity
– experience of the tremendous power of God as he works in their lives.
Paul’s experience speaks here: God showed him mercy when he was a persecutor of Christians.
The idea of the greatness of God’s power leads Paul to speak about its operation in the life, death, resurrection and ascended rule of Christ, and by implication, its operation in the present life and future enthronement of the church.
Paul now explains the purpose of this rule; the rule of God operates on behalf of the church, the fellowship of believers.
The church is one in Christ and thus is able to share in Christ’s exaltation It is through the church that God pervades the world with his goodness. The order of the Church must be His will and every activity must exalt Him, since it is in the capacity of Head over all that God gave Him to the Church
He then goes on to define the church as "the fullness of him who in every way is being filled." Christ is the one in whom the fullness of deity resides, and that fullness of deity resides within the community of believers through the indwelling Spirit who is present in the assembly of believers
The message is clear. God does not abandon the one who loves. The powers that destroy do not have the last word. Love overcomes hate. God took Jesus home and celebrated him. The same God and the same hope is the life force of believers Christ’s hope and ours belong inextricably together.
What happened with Christ was the beginning of something which reaches out and encompasses others and brings together into a network of people who share the same source of energy. Borrowing from an idea developed in new ways in Colossians, Ephesians speaks of Christ becoming the head of an expanding body into which we are incorporated. Paul’s image of the body for the local congregation now becomes the basis for understanding how all believers belong together.
Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46
Having answered the disciples’ question concerning the "when" and the "sign" of his "coming and the end of the age", Jesus gives his disciples a visionary description of the day of judgment. In that day the righteous, the blessed ones, will be separated from the unrighteous, the cursed ones. The righteous are blessed because they are compassionate, a compassion that is theirs in Christ.
It is one of Matthew’s themes that there are sheep and goats, evil and righteous, wheat and weeds (Mt 13:24-30) in the church at the present time. The separation is not our responsibility, but the responsibility of the angels or of the king who comes at the end of the age
A second theme is judgment. We encountered it already at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3. Throughout the Gospel, we are continually made aware of a tension between obedience and disobedience.
Another theme is discipleship. At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is this call to an obedience that is not prescription or law or sacrifice but joyful living in mercy without calculation. In this passage those who alleviate thirst, hunger, clothing, medical care, visiting those in prison, welcome the stranger
The king = the Son of man, Jesus.
The sheep = those who hear and do the words of God.
The goats = those who hear and don’t do the word of God.
The kingdom = eternal life.
The Nations= ethnic groups
The word for "nations" is ethnos. Perhaps its most basic meaning is "not us." It was used by the Jews to refer to those who were "not us," that is "the Gentiles." It was also used by Christians to refer to those who were "not us," that is "unbelievers." ("Gentiles" is used by Mormons to refer to all non-Mormons. Even Jews are "Gentiles" in Mormon thinking.)
Sheep and Goats in the Middle East
Sheep and goats mingle and graze together each day.
1 When they are moved to fresh pasture or when sheep are due for shearing or goats for milking,
2. When evening falls and the goats must be sheltered against night’s chill, then they are separated. The sheep would sleep in the open air, while the goats needed the heat of close quarters.
Sheep are the more valuable animals (greater utility); moreover their white color (in distinction from the black of the goats) makes them a symbol of the righteous
The traditional image of a Israelite king was the shepherd. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were shepherds; David, the nation’s greatest King, began life as a shepherd his promise (Ezek. 34:23; 37:22, 24 and Zech. 13:7; cf. 12:10) took on messianic significance.
God’s people are referred to as sheep. Throughout scriptures the image of sheep and shepherd is used to talk about the relationship between God and God’s people. Goats are not used in the image of this relationship.
Sheep were intelligent, yet quiet animals, submissive, yet persistent. Male sheep fiercely protected their harems from challengers. Sheep arranged themselves in a herd. In the face of danger, the adult males would surround the females and the young. In a culture that encouraged loud debate and social one-upmanship, contemporaries of Jesus admired sheep for their loyalty and silent strength.
Goats, however, were stubborn, destructive animals if left unattended. Male goats did not protect their mates from other males. The name "goat" became a derogatory term for a man shamed by the adultery of his wife. In the folklore of the general Greek culture, the goat symbolized the loose morals of the lesser gods, Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. So, Jews hated the symbol of the goat, for it represented a disobedient, undisciplined lifestyleI
Judgment is a day of sorting: sheep to the right, goats to the left; blessed to the right, cursed to the left
The separation takes place between sheep and goats before either group is told what they have or haven’t done
The separation is not our responsibility, but the responsibility of the angels or of the king who comes at the end of the age. Just as the farmer separates his sheep and goats at evening time, so the Son of Man will separate all humanity into two groups, with those at his right hand given power and honor.
Note key words – “hungry, thirst, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned.” These are six groups of people who need Christ’s compassion through his heart, hands and feet. The people with Christ’s heart, hands and feet are those people who follow him.
The righteous, the blessed ones, are obviously Jesus’ disciples, believers. They now receive the inheritance of the kingdom, an inheritance the Father prepared for them before the beginning of time. The crucial question is, how did they earn this reward?
A Righteous receive their reward because of their faith and not of their works (living)
Judgment, as it appears in this parable, has more to do with mercy than it does with works.
What matters is not our status or achievements, but our continuing willingness to let the life of God be lived through us, concretely: our love for people.
B. Holy ignorance.
The separation takes place between sheep and goats before either group is told what they have or haven’t done.
These were people who had entered the joy of their master without even knowing it. Such participation is not self-evident. The joy they knew was not complete; it was mixed with suffering, danger, risk, tribulations and most likely many disappointments. And yet, it was joy. They acted out of mercy. They went the way of the cross and now find themselves at the right hand of the Son of Man.
Love is always a participation in Christ’s love whether we label it so or not.
C. Lived out their baptism – They have already separated out themselves
Because they have already partaken in the Kingdom; they have cooperated with grace and have been instruments of God’s providence for others. They were not like the Pharisees who only talked the talk and did not do the walk.
The loving was real, not a means to enhance their relationship with Jesus. They acted out of mercy
A believer, motivated by the compelling love of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, loves their brother in the Lord, although always imperfectly.
By reaching out to the disadvantaged, they have reached out toward God. Mission itself becomes redefined when we consider the move outwards as a move towards God!
Those on the right hand of the Son of Man (also designated the "King") are those who have gone through the great tribulation, those who have lived out their baptism, not those who have conscientiously performed good works or have been morally upright. They are the ones who have risked dying and rising with Jesus in this world and are not waiting for some other future world or life.
Summary -God’s judgment is based on an exceedingly great expectation, one which is beyond the norm. Jesus makes it quite clear that a failure to act with total compassion serves as a personal affront to God, an affront that leads to "the eternal fire."
Salvation, getting saved, staying saved, is totally dependent on the mercy of God; it is a gift of God, ours for the asking. Of course, such a person will reflect their standing with Jesus by their love of those who love Jesus, but in the end, it is their faith in Jesus, their trust in his promised mercy, that secures eternal life.