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Fr. Charles Irvin
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28; Matthew 25:31-46
The Church is not driven by worldly ambition to dominate. Rather it is motivated to do just one thing, the work of Christ under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For Christ came among us to bear witness to the truth and not to condemn, to serve and not be served, to seek out and save the lost. The kingship of Christ has nothing to do with the power, luxury, splendor and pretentiousness associated with the principalities and powers of this world. The kingship of Christ comes to us with something ancient, an image we have lost, namely the metaphor of the shepherd-king. That ancient calling, that ancient role, was rich. It had a depth that we moderns are barely able to fathom. Perhaps it is now beyond our reach.
But maybe not. If you’ve read C. S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe you’ll remember the children who entered a land ruled by a lion named Aslan. While visiting the Beaver family, Mr. Beaver tells them about the mighty lion king Aslan, mighty and yet benevolent, who provides for all of the animals while keeping order in his kingdom. “Oh,” cries one of the children, “is he quite safe?” “Safe?” replied Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? He strikes fear in your very soul. His roar is filled with power. Safe? No, not safe. But Aslan is good.”
As you perhaps know, Aslan is C. S. Lewis’ analogue for Jesus Christ. Mr. Lewis is attempting to overcome our tendency to take God too lightly. All too often we’re guilty of the sin of presumption, vainly taking God for granted, assuming that of course He will forgive us for anything we do. True, Christ is meek and mild, comforting, tender, inviting, and nurturing. And so are shepherds. Nevertheless shepherds are often weather-beaten, gnarled, and often scarred from fighting off wolves and others beasts that would ravish the sheep. Furthermore shepherds separate out the goats from the sheep, something that requires them to be seemingly harsh judges.
Today’s reading from the prophet Ezekiel throws light on God being mighty, powerful, and fearsome while at the same time caring for the lost, the plundered, the beaten-down, and the exiled. Ezekiel used the imagery of the shepherd to describe God. In Exekiel’s time, everyone would have instantly recognized the analogy. The shepherd would be their only protection; they were defenseless. God’s might and tenderness, both, were needed.
We just heard a portion of Psalm 23. If you go to Psalms 25, 26 and 27 (especially 27) you will hear our Lion King comforting us with words of tender, loving care. Perhaps in them we may feel the full impact of Christ’s inaugural address when at the beginning of His public ministry He declares:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
If today you are feeling lost, defenseless, injured, and discouraged, then open up your hearts. Your shepherd king comes for you.
If, however, you are feeling smug, self-satisfied, and dismissive about your Church, your religion, and your God, then perhaps you should feel some unease. Ezekiel, the prophet, has the word of the Lord for you: “The sleek and strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly. As for you, I will judge between one sheep and another.”
Shepherds have tender hearts, but have leathery skins, sharp eyes, and voices that cannot be ignored without putting yourself in peril. Shepherds lie down at night across the opening to the stone-hedged sheepfold and thereby put their bodies on the line so that wolves would have to pass over them to enter the sheepfold. Shepherds, in other words, are “tough cookies”, not to be trifled with.
Today, the last Sunday in the Church’s liturgical year, we are confronted with the Lion King who is our final judge. He has loved us with great passion. With all the more passion He defends us from spiritual forces on high that seek to devour our souls. The greater the love, the greater the passion.
The opposite of love is not anger and wrath — it is apathy and indifference. And God, our Lion King Shepherd, is anything but apathetic.
Let me review for you the gospel accounts for these last three Sundays in the Church’s liturgical year. Two Sundays ago we heard of the foolish virgins who neglected to provide themselves with oil for their lamps. When the bridegroom came to celebrate his wedding the foolish ones found the door slammed in their faces.
Last Sunday we heard of the servant who received a considerable amount of money but because he was fear driven he neglected to do anything with the talents he was given and buried them instead.
Today we hear of people who neglected their spiritual vision and failed to see Christ in those around them, in those who needed His love, care, and concern. They are surprised to find themselves damned to eternal punishment.
Did you hear the common word used in describing these last three gospel accounts? It’s neglect. With all that God has given us, and with all that God has done for us, including sending us His only Son, we have received countless treasures, talents, abilities and powers. What have we done with them? To repeat, the opposite of love is not anger and rather – it is apathy, indifference, and neglect. And our Lion King Shepherd is anything but neglectful and apathetic.
The mystery of evil is that you and I have been given the power to resist God, to go off on our own way, to live life “my way”, and to ignore God’s loving care. The astounding mystery is the fact that even though God is omnipotent, all-powerful and infinitely loving, we can cancel out all of His power and make our own choices. using our own powers of free will and simply dismiss him, wandering off on our own way. It’s quite possible for us to tune out the voice of our one, true shepherd. In doing so we bring down upon ourselves our own self-generated disasters. People who no longer pray are usually heard saying, “My life seems so meaningless. What’s the purpose for my living? Just who am I anyway?”
So, then, is Christ safe? Who said anything about Him being safe? But he is good. How have we responded?