Sunday Sermon for November 26, 2023, the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A

Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

In the first reading and in the Gospel, we hear about a shepherd who is tending his flock.  We hear about a number of tasks the shepherd does for his sheep, but the most important task our Shepherd did for us is not mentioned.  Jesus laid down His life for us.  If Jesus simply came into this world and taught us about God and the things of God, He would have been another Rabbi, an extraordinary one to be sure, but a Rabbi who would have faded from the minds and memories of most people.

It is precisely because our Lord exercised His Kingly office in the fullest and most proper way that He is able to separate the sheep from the goats.  In other words, it is because of His death and resurrection that He is our Judge.  However, before He could be our Judge He first needed to be our King.  The way things are set up in this world, kings and judges are people who are placed higher than the rest of us to exercise authority; indeed, often they are people to be feared. 

But we know that the sheep do not fear their shepherd.  Instead, they recognize his voice, they follow where he leads, and they dwell peacefully knowing they are being properly guided, watched over, and protected.  The only sheep that need to fear, as we see in the first reading, are sheep that are sleek and strong.  At first glance, these qualities would seem to be favorable; but Ezekiel says the shepherd will destroy these sheep, shepherding them rightly. 

How is destroying sheep shepherding them rightly?  Sheep have a reputation of being followers, but sheep that are sleek and strong do not have this quality.   These sheep often think they can lead; they try to blaze their own path.  But there is only one path that leads to Heaven and it is the one our Shepherd walked and, consequently, the path on which He will lead us.  If we want to go our own way and act like sheep that are sleek and strong, other sheep will follow and we will lead them into trouble.  These sleek and strong sheep need to learn to be among the flock, not taking the place of the Shepherd.

If another sheep tries to lead us on an easier path, we will be led astray.  Thankfully we have a Good Shepherd Who seeks us out and brings us back.  We all know the path on which our Shepherd will lead us: it goes right up Calvary.  This path is rough and narrow and we tend not to like it.  This is where having such a Good Shepherd is our salvation, literally.

Our Good Shepherd, Who is also our Good King, does not just teach us about green pastures and restful waters, He walks in front of us and leads us to these places that feed and refresh our souls.   Our King died for us so that we could have life.  It is wonderful that our souls can be fed and refreshed, but they must have life before they can be built up.  Our Lord and King gives this life, His life, to our souls.  This is only possible because He was willing to give up His own life in order to give His life to us. 

On the natural level this is not possible.  Someone can die for another, but the life of the person who died does not become the possession of the one for whom he died.  But our King not only leads us in battle against the principalities and powers, Jesus entered directly into the enemy camp and defeated the enemy by appearing to be defeated in death.  In rising from the dead, our King gives us a participation in His own divine life.  Thus, we are able to continue to battle and, like Jesus, we will be victorious by entering directly into the enemy camp, that is, we will be victorious by dying so we can live forever.

This seems counter-intuitive, but we see it in the second reading where St. Paul tells us that Jesus must reign until all His enemies are placed beneath His feet.  St. Paul tells us the last enemy to be defeated is death.  Death will be defeated by life.  When the last person has completed the necessary task of crushing Satan’s head, appearing to be “defeated” by entering into death and then comes forth as the victor who faced the enemy of our souls and received new life, then will death finally be destroyed.  In other words, each of us has the privilege of sharing in our Lord’s victory over sin and death.  Follow your Good Shepherd and your Good King and be victorious.  Hail, Christ our King!

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