The Feast of Christ the King, Proper 29, 22 November 2020
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Background: The Feast of Christ the King
The celebration of this feast day is relatively new to the liturgical calendars of the Roman, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a response to the horrors of the First World War and increasing secularism and nationalism. Originally, in the Roman Calendar the day was celebrated on the last Sunday in October. In 1970, the feast day in the Roman Calendar was moved to the last Sunday in Ordinary Time by Pope Paul IV. His intention in this move was to associate the feast day with the Season of Advent that would follow it. This association, it was thought, would make the eschatological importance of this Sunday clearer. Anglicans and Lutherans added the feast day with their adoption of the Three-Year Lectionary and Calendar.
First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
In this reading we are immediately apprised of what God intends to do – the intention is that God will be the shepherd searching for “my sheep” and seeking them out. The New American Bible has an interesting translation of the final phrase, “(I will) examine them.” The Jewish Study Bible also has an interesting translation, “Here am I! I am going to take thought for My flock, and I will seek them out.” So God as depicted here as the ideal shepherd. This is in contrast to the first verses of chapter 34, where the shepherds (a stand-in for the kings, and leaders of Israel) are judged for their misdeeds against the people. “You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.” (Ezekiel 34:4). Ezekiel is invited to prophesy against these shepherds. What follows then, in our reading, is a vision of a new kind of shepherd – one who gathers the flock, and searches out the lost.
The elided verses (17-19) are a judgment against the flock itself. Given the context of this particular day, The Feast of Christ the King, these verses did not seem appropriate, however, the judgment theme (see the “examine” translation above, continues in the remaining verses of our reading. “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” The picture is of a flock that is not aware of itself as a community. It is this flock that God intends to save through this period of judgment. In the end, there will be a new shepherd, a shepherd modeled after David. This is God’s choice and word, that David should be a prince, a “first-one” in their midst, and an agent for God. It’s a shame that the reading ends where it does, because verse 25 talks about the covenant of peace that is made with the people (sheep) and their prince (shepherd).
Breaking open Ezekiel
1. Who are the shepherds of our time?
2. Do they meet the standards that God intends for them?
3. How can you help the shepherds of our time?
Psalm 100 Jubilate Deo
1 Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4 For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
There is a collection in the psalter of so-called “kingship psalms”, (psalm 93-99). This is technically not one of them, although it shares many common themes and language with the other psalms. Its superscription is, “A Psalm for Praise.” Indeed, the first verse is an invitation to praise God. It is a perfect accompaniment to the reading from Ezekiel in that it continues the representation of God as shepherd. We move, in the psalm, between the pasture and the Temple precincts. In either place God invites our praise and promises steadfast love and faithfulness.
Breaking open Psalm 100:
1. In what ways do you understand that you are God’s own?
2. What do you see as God’s faithfulness?
3. What might your exclamation of praise be?
Psalm 95:1-7a Venite, exultemus
1 Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
3 For the Lord is a great God, *
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
and the heights of the hills are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it, *
and his hands have molded the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
Episcopalians and Lutherans will be especially familiar with this psalm (The Venite) since its role is so prominent in Matins, or Morning Prayer. It also shares some phraseology with Psalm 100 (above) and is in the collection of “kingship psalms”. However, here the scene here is set in the wider world of creation. It is divided into three sections, the first (verses 1-5) largely an invitation to sing God’s praise, and to know God in creation. The second (verses 6-7c) is an invitation to bow down in worship, and in these verses, we have a shepherd/flock reference. The final section (verses 7d-11) is not in today’s reading, but invites us to listen for God’s voice, and not to test God. The focus of its use today is on singing God’s praise, seeing God in creation, and realizing that God is our shepherd, and we are the flock.
Breaking open Psalm 95:
1. Where do you see God in creation?
2. What bodily movements do you use to signal that you are worshipping?
3. How do you listen to God?
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when
he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the age to come.
And he has put all things under his feet
and has made him the head over all things for the church,
which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
I have altered the layout of the reading (above) to reflect the layout used by Markus Barth in his commentary on Ephesians. It emphasizes the poetic and almost creedal nature of the latter part of the reading. The entire reading is composed (typically of Paul) as one long sentence, affirmation piling upon affirmation. It is composed of several units: thanksgiving, intercession, reflection on the resurrection of Jesus, and finally comments on the church.
Paul notes that he gives thanks for the people at Ephesus and then invites them into the cycle of thanksgiving first given for them. What Paul outlines for them, a kind of remembrance, is a calling to mind the riches, and the inheritance of faith that he wishes to bestow upon them. What follows that introduction is a poem of faith in which he recalls the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus.
The simplicity of this introduction and poem is rich beyond belief. In his commentary, Markus Barth offers 50 pages of commentary on these 9 verses from Paul. That said, it comes to my mind that the best use of this particular reading might be a focus for meditation, any one of the verses serving as a good mantra for the one meditating. This Sunday the following might serve us well, “The fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Breaking open Ephesians:
1. Paul speaks of the Ephesians’ love for all the holy ones. Who are your holy ones?
2. In what ways have you been given a spirit of wisdom and revelation?
3. What is the hope that you see in your faith in Jesus?
The Gospel: St. Matthew 25:31-46
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This pericope follows immediately upon the Parable of the Virgins, and the Parable of the Talents. Here we witness Matthew’s eschatology in The Judgment of the Nations. It might be good to read again the preceding parables to give you context as you wrestle with this reading. This parable is found only in Matthew, and where in other instances Matthew has had a tendency to soften or spiritualize content, such as in the Beatitudes, here his Jesus is brusque and to the point. There is also a final development here – the Son of Man, who in Mark comes in “glory of his Father with the holy angels,” is seen differently in Luke (12:8) where Jesus seems to be separate from the Son of Man, “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.” Matthew’s initial verse of the pericope, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…” seems to be either the final development of Jesus and/as the Son of Man, or a look backward to the vision in Daniel 7:13ff. Regardless, Matthew sets the stage for the judgement of the nations in an ancient vision, and in his current reality.
There is a procession of visions: 1) the separation of goats and sheep (verses23-33), 2) invitation to the righteous, and a description of their holy deeds (verses 34-36), 3) the questions of the righteous and the king’s answer (verses 37-40), 4) the dismissal of those on the left and a description of their wanting (verses 41-43), 5) the question of those on the left and the king’s answer (verses 44-46).
It is a temptation to look at this as the final statement about Jesus, but the one exalted in this parable is soon to be led to cross, crucifixion, and death. Jesus is the one going to judgment, but on the eve of his judgment, Matthew sees all of us as going to judgment. Matthew has connected glory and judgment in a wonderful way. I remember when the three-year lectionary was first introduced and how stunned I was when looking at the Gospel for this feast day in year C – Christ ruling from the throne of the cross. This pericope has an equal sense of power when we realize that this is on the cusp of the Passion Narrative for Matthew. Both traditions are honored here.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. With which group do you identify?
2. How are you righteous?
3. How are you those on the left?
General idea: Finding the Good Shepherd
Example 1: The need of good shepherds in the community (First Reading)
Example 2: God as creator and shepherd (Psalms)
Example 3: Knowing the shepherd in the “one raised from the dead” (Second Reading)
Example 4: The Shepherd as separator and judge (Gospel)
Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller
 Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors; Michael Fishbane, consulting editor. The Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Oxford; New York; Oxford University Press, 2004., page 1096
 Barth, M. The Anchor Bible, Ephesians, Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on Chapters 1-3, Doubleday, Garden City, (1974)