Sunday Sermon for November 22, 2020, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A
Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46
In the first reading today the Lord tells us two things: He is the Shepherd Who will tend His sheep who are scattered and, He will judge between one sheep and another, the rams, and the goats. I think it is important to note that the flock is scattered. The fact that the Lord God put this description in the Scriptures tells us that this would be a problem throughout history. We are supposed to be united in truth and in charity, so if we are scattered, it would suggest that one or both of these unifying factors is missing.
It is also important to recognize that in the first reading God says He will destroy the sleek and the strong sheep. On the surface, this appears to make no sense. After all, one would think the sleek and the strong are the sheep one would prize the most. So, why would the Shepherd destroy them? I recall reading a book written by a shepherd reflecting on Psalm 23. He pointed out that often the best looking or strongest sheep will influence the other sheep. This makes sense because they are, in essence, the leaders among the sheep.
This would be great if these leaders were leading the other sheep in the way the shepherd wants the sheep to go. However, this author said that sometimes these sleek or strong sheep would be independent and go in a direction different from the way of the shepherd. Their example would lead the other sheep into trouble and cause the flock to become scattered. Because these were the “best” sheep in the flock, the shepherd cherished them and would try, in many ways, to break them of their bad habits. If these sheep would not cooperate, they would need to be destroyed because they would destroy the rest of the flock. So, when God says He will destroy the sleek and the strong, “shepherding them rightly,” this is what it means.
God does the same with us. He “destroys” us in the sense that He purifies our souls of the various vices which cause us problems. Of course, the arch-vice is pride, the very thing that makes us think we are sleek, strong, or both. If we cooperate and go through the purifications, these vices will be destroyed and we will be true sheep of our Good Shepherd, following Him in truth and charity wherever He leads us. However, if these vices are not rooted out, our pride will often make us pull away from God in order to do what we want. In this way, we become a wandering sheep and, possibly, lead others astray with us.
In the Gospel, when our Lord speaks of separating the sheep from the goats, it is all based on charity. In other words, no one is judged merely on believing the truth or having knowledge of the catechism. Rather, the judgment is based on how we put our knowledge of the truth into practice. Our vices make us selfish whereas virtues will result in charity. Knowledge of God is not sufficient. If there is a question about this, just ask Satan. He knows the truth better than we do, but that was not enough. Satan refused to follow the way of the Lord and was “destroyed” in his sleekness and strength.
So, we must know the truth, but then we must act on that truth. If we become proud of our knowledge, it will be to our own detriment. If we are willing to advance in the spiritual life and develop our relationship with the Lord, then we will actually know the Lord Himself and not simply possess knowledge of Him. It is one thing to know that God is love, it is entirely another to know God Who is love. Once we have experienced this love, then we can begin to love God and neighbor more, with God’s own love. This will spur us on to want to love even more. God will honor our desire by purifying us of those things that stand in the way of loving more. This is the pattern of all the Saints.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks about the resurrection. Once again, we see that this will not happen until Jesus has destroyed every sovereignty, authority, and power. This is necessary because everything must be subject to Jesus before He hands over His Kingdom to His Father. Then everything will be subject to God. So, if we think we have any kind of sovereignty, power, or authority of our own, these things must be destroyed in us so we can be subject to Jesus. He will shepherd us rightly; if we cooperate, we will reign with Him in truth and charity forever.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.