Gospel Reflection For Sunday 26th November 2023 by Fr Brian Maher OMI
Gospel Reflection for Sunday November 26th 2023 | Feast of Christ the King
Jesus began his mission with the message, “Repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is near at hand.” How appropriate it is, then, that on this last Sunday of the year we hear in the Gospel of the final coming of that Kingdom.
This great parable of the ‘end things’ is told in the context of a Jewish understanding of what would happen at the end of the world. Since Jesus was a Jew himself, how could it be any different? For the Jewish people God would come in glory and power, the Messiah at his side, accompanied by his armies, to usher in the ‘new and eternal’ Kingdom of God. It would last for all time and would be a Kingdom of peace and joy, liberty and justice.
Central to the coming of this Kingdom would be the ‘Last Judgement’, a public calling to account of all the peoples of the world, followed by entry to the Kingdom for eternity or banishment from the Kingdom to everlasting damnation.
We cannot hope to understand the ‘last judgement’ in a Jewish context without first understanding the unshakable belief held by the Jewish people that they were God’s ‘Chosen People’, rightful heirs to God’s Kingdom, seeing it as their birthright. It was a Kingdom promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and prepared for through the ages by remaining faithful to the great covenant that “you will be my people and I will be your God” and by keeping the Law of Moses.
The purpose of the great and majestic final judgement was to vindicate the chosen people, punish their enemies and reward them for their faithfulness. The Final Judgement would mean that once and for all, God’s people, who suffered exiles, occupation and persecution for so long would finally inherit what God had always promised them.
Growing up, and maybe even as he began his Mission in the river Jordan with John the Baptist’s baptism, Jesus would have understood the Kingdom of God in these terms. But as his mission developed so did his understanding of the Kingdom until it became for him something quite different to that which was expected by the people.
Firstly, instead of being a Kingdom which would come with power and the force of armies, the Kingdom Jesus talked about was a Kingdom of peace and gentleness.
Secondly, instead of the Kingdom of God being primarily for the Jewish People, as a reward for their faithfulness, Jesus talked about a Kingdom which was for all people. All would be welcomed equally, the criteria for entrance to the Kingdom being only the way people lived.
Thirdly, instead of a Kingdom centred on the Temple of Jerusalem, the Kingdom Jesus talked about would be an internal one, centred on the Holy Spirit living in all people. In a real way Jesus came to see himself as the new Temple, which “could be destroyed, but in three days would rise again.”
His parables and interaction with people spoke of this ‘new’ vision of the coming Kingdom of God. It began as a Kingdom easily recognised by the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities but quickly took on characteristics alien to what they expected. Initially it created suspicion among them, leading to a decision to watch him carefully, engaging with him to try to clarify exactly what it was he promised. As his preaching continued and his popularity grew their suspicions turned to concern and ultimately a decision that the Kingdom he preached was dangerous and he had to be silenced.
His Resurrection, of course, showed that the new Kingdom of God, based on Jesus himself, was valid and had already come into the world.
Today’s Gospel, is probably best understood by what it does not say than by what it does say. For instance, the Kingdom of today’s parable will come in glory, but nowhere does it say in power or with the intention of vindicating Israel or punishing its enemies.
Nowhere does it say that the Kingdom of God is exclusively or even primarily for the Jewish people. It is for those who “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner.” In other words, it is for everyone who lives life according to certain values.
Nowhere does it say that the centre of the Kingdom of God will be the Temple in Jerusalem. It is clear that Jesus himself is the centre of the Kingdom. Somehow, everything that happens in the Kingdom of God is focused solely on Jesus himself. “In so far as you did (or did not do) this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did (or did not do) it to me.”
The Kingdom of today’s parable is the Kingdom first outlined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Then it was a call to find ‘happiness’ and wholeness. Today, it is the key which opens for us the Kingdom of God.
Nor does this Gospel say that entry to the Kingdom is for those who live according to the Law of Moses or indeed any other set of rules. It is purely our way of life, our respect for others, our awareness of the poor and needy, which opens the Kingdom of God to us.
Those listening to Jesus tell this parable would easily understand the context of judgement and the coming of the King in glory. If they were listening to Jesus for the first time they would not understand the rest of what he says about the Kingdom. However, if they already knew Jesus, or heard him speak before, they would know immediately that what he was saying was absolutely consistent with the way he lived his life. Entry to the Kingdom, therefore, is clearly for those who live like Jesus.
This would have terrified the authorities whose power came from the imposition of laws, and whose control came from measuring entry to the Kingdom by means of sacrifices offered in the Temple.
Without laws, rules, sacrifices and penances they lost their power and control over the people, and this was hugely threatening for them.
The Kingship of Christ that we celebrate today is a Kingship like no other which has been, is, or will come into our world.
It is a Kingship which is awesome in that it is God, the creator of our Universe and all that exists within it, who offers to share his Kingdom with us. This is a reality so far beyond us that we cannot ever fully grasp it. All we can do is wonder at it and be humbly grateful.
Even more awesome is the fact that it is a Kingdom accessible to all people without exception. No person and no laws or rules can deny us entry. Access is by virtue of how we choose to live our lives and ultimately, we have control over that ourselves.
When we stand before God, we will see all of the opportunities we had to heal, forgive, welcome, and accept others, and in face of God’s eternal Love we will recognise for ourselves the hurt and rejection we caused by turning our backs on those opportunities.
In this way I believe we will judge ourselves!
Looking into the very depth and beauty of love itself, we will wonder how we could have treated fellow human beings so carelessly and so cruelly. God’s gaze, his Love, will say to us, “I sent you Jesus to show you the way. He told you that following his way would lead to peace and happiness, yet you ignored him. All you had to do was “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner.” These people were all around you; sitting at your feet as you walked the pavements, reaching out to you from your television screens and social media pages, in your very own family and home…… how did you not see their needs? You could have done so much, and you could have been so much happier…..”
When we gaze into the face of absolute Love, I truly believe that every single person who ever lived on this Earth will weep for the opportunities we lost. The ‘image of God’ which is always within us, cannot but weep when it beholds the opportunities squandered by our lack of thought.
If we then feel sorrow and say, ‘God forgive me’, then Love, whose other name is mercy, will, I feel certain, forgive us. Then we will hear the wonderful words of Jesus, “Come, you who are blessed of my Father, enter the Kingdom prepared for you…..”
Sheep and goats on different sides of the judgement field.
Will there be many goats? Indeed, will there be any goats?
When we stand before God, before the awesome beauty of Love itself and see ourselves in its incredible light, then I struggle, I truly do struggle, to see any goats!
What about you?
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at email@example.com
|Gospel Sunday November 26th 2023
I was naked and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me
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