Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Saint Theresa of Calcutta, as most of us know, spent over 50 years serving the dying poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. She had felt a special “call within her call” to religious life, as she would call it, to attend to those who were dying and poor that she (and the sisters that she eventually gathered around her) would find on the streets of Calcutta. For the most part, the people for whom she and her sisters cared had no chance of recovery and survival. That wasn’t Mother Theresa’s purpose, though. Her call was to acknowledge their human dignity and to make them feel loved and cared for in their dying days.
Over the years that she completed this service, many asked Mother Theresa, “How do you do it?” In other words, “How is it possible for you to spend all of your days ministering to people who are physically filthy (because they haven’t bathed in a long time), while breathing intense body odor, dressing open sores and wounds, cleaning fecal matter and throw up, while living in a place with relatively poor sanitation and even poorer ventilation?” Mother’s answer was always five simple words (which she would count off using the fingers of her hand): “You. Did. It. To. Me.”
For Mother Theresa, it was her love of Jesus, and Jesus’ promise that he made to his disciples in the judgment parable that we heard in our Gospel reading today, that impelled her on. For her, Jesus’ judgment warning wasn’t so much of a threat (that is, “look at how you will be punished if fail to do this!”), but rather an amazing opportunity promised to her. When she read, “whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me”, she saw her chance to meet Jesus, for whom she had fostered and intense love, in the flesh of the poor ones whom she met in the streets of the slums of Calcutta. In other words, in this phrase, Mother Theresa found the way to order her life rightly so as to demonstrate her love for Jesus in the most intense way.
Friends, it is true that this passage of Matthew’s Gospel is a depiction of the final judgment. If we view it only as a fearful thing, however—that is, as something over which we have no control—then we fail to see the beautiful instruction that Jesus gives to us within it. You see, in telling us how we are going to be judged, Jesus is giving us a clue as to how we are to order our lives rightly. In effect, Jesus is saying: “If you love me and you wish to serve me, here’s how you do it.” And what is that way? To do works of mercy to all those around you. In doing this, that is, in instructing us in this way, Jesus is demonstrating that he is shepherding his people, just as he promised to do through the prophet Ezekiel centuries before.
In our first reading, we heard this prophesy from the prophet Ezekiel in which God says that he, himself, will come to tend his sheep. He is saying this because the shepherds whom he had appointed for his people—that is, the rulers who had followed in the line of King David, the original “shepherd king”—had failed to shepherd his people rightly, which led God to remove his protection from them, which then led to their being conquered by the Babylonians and forced into exile from their land. This prophesy, then, is a promise that God himself will come and shepherd his people once again and lead them back into their land. More importantly, however, he promises to lead them into rightly ordered lives, by which they will enjoy God’s friendship for all eternity.
Today, therefore, as we celebrate this feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we see that what we celebrate is Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd King—not just of one people at one place in time, but of the whole universe—whom God sent to save us from our exile in sin and to shepherd us into rightly ordered living so that we might enter into God’s friendship for eternity. As King—especially as a King who has shown us such great benevolence by taking on our human nature so that he might suffer all of the effects of our sinfulness (including, and especially, death!) in order to save us from sin and death—he expects that we will serve him and offer to him works that demonstrate our gratefulness for this grace that we have been given. Even more so, however, our King expects that our works would not be done out of duty alone, but also out of our love for him who has already demonstrated his love so generously for us. This latter expectation is what Mother Theresa clung to so strongly in her life and in her work: She loved Jesus so much that she delighted in demonstrating her love for him by performing these extraordinary acts of mercy for those “least brothers” of his.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is our great Shepherd King and he longs to shepherd us into his kingdom of eternal life and peace. And so, how do we allow him to shepherd us? Well, it would be easy for me to say “by doing the works of mercy”. Perhaps, however, I can offer an even more practical method: what if we simply tried to be less selfish every day? You know, if we all tried to be a little less selfish every day (and, therefore, more giving to others), then, before we know it, we’d look a lot more like Mother Theresa. All it takes is a choice—and it is a choice that we’ll have to make every day—but when we do, we begin to let Jesus shepherd us. And when Jesus shepherds us, then our lives begin to become rightly re-ordered. And when our lives begin to be rightly re-ordered, then our world will begin to be rightly re-ordered. And when our world becomes rightly re-ordered, then what else is that but the kingdom of God among us. And what more could we want than to have the kingdom of God among us? Once we experience that, then we have nothing else to wait for than the coming of our Shepherd King, Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, so that death, the final enemy will be destroyed and we will be given back to God to live in the eternal joy of heaven.
You probably didn’t think that being a little less selfish today could bring about heaven did you? But it’s true! Choose heaven today, therefore, by choosing to be less-selfish and you will be choosing eternal life: the shepherding of our King, Jesus Christ—the very same King who we meet here at this altar.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 25th & 26th, 2017