In the church calendar, celebrating the Reign of Christ culminates the Time after Pentecost when we reach a sort of high point. The long green season has taught us many things about being church, and we have pondered our own congregations and our own hearts, the work of the church in every land, our outreach, the needs of our local community, and all that our ancestors have bequeathed to us in experiences and hopes.
All of that history and proclamation leans toward this day when we are taken to the heights: a vision of the one who rules over all things coming in glory with angels. As a judge, the ruler sits on the throne with the sheep and the goats from all nations gathered before him. The separation begins. We behold our own lives scrutinized and pronounced upon by the one who has every right to do so and does it with utter justice.
Because it is most alarming, what stands out in the Gospel reading is the condemnation of those who have not tended “the least of these.”
What stands out in the reading from Ezekiel is the shepherd’s promise to gather the sheep. Less prominent, but not lost in the prophetic voice, is the warning to those who are “fat and strong.” They are those who have had their fill of wealth and power without concern for the “least.”
[W]e follow the way of Jesus Christ in caring for the hungry, the naked, the thirsty, the imprisoned. The least of these are those who are Christ in our midst. Was not our Lord hungry and thirsty? Was he not naked at that cross, imprisoned, shackled, nailed to the tree? To care for fellow members of the household of God is part of bearing our crosses for Christ and loving Christ. It is being the body of Christ to the body of Christ.
In his fourth-century sermon #272 on the Lord's Table, St. Augustine famously proclaimed, “Be what you see, receive what you are. If you are his body and members of him, then you will find set on the Lord's Table your own mystery.”
You have been taken. You have been blessed. You have been broken. And now, you have been given. Be the body of Christ to the body of Christ, to the least of these.
– Neal D. Presa was the Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The prophet speaks words from YHWH. The sheep, that is, the people of God, have experienced terrible days of “clouds and thick darkness” (v 12) and are scattered from their homeland (referring to the exile). YHWH comes to shepherd them back to their homeland. God will provide everything they need: good food, flowing waters, rest, and healing. God will favor the weak, lost, and injured but will punish those who use their authority for selfish gain.
God will act. God will be involved. God will act to restore the sheep—the people to their own home. After the in-gathering, God will provide a new leader—a new shepherd, David. YHWH, through the voice of Ezekiel, promises a different kind of leader than before.
– Eric T. Meyers serves as pastor to the Frederick Presbyterian church in Frederick, Maryland.
[T]he writer of Ephesians prays that the church may come to know [the] immeasurable greatness of God's power in Christ available to us.
Most of the time, we don't go around at school or at work or at home claiming that we have any kind of power. When we do want to gain power in certain situations, it's not the power of God at work in us, it's the sin of pride as we manipulate others to get what we want. Still, many times we are overwhelmed with the feeling that we are really powerless in the world today. The power being talked about in Ephesians is not worldly power by any means. This is not the kind of power that sends us to war, or suppresses others to build up ourselves. We are talking about King Jesus power—that makes us more than we are.
– Kelly Lyn Logue is a pastor in the United Methodist Church.
Christ’s reign has one large focus on this day: Care for those in need… for those who sacrifice for others… for those in whom we see the one who died and rose for us.
Homily Service 41, no. 4 (21 July 2008): 139-147.