I’m a pretty independent type of chap. In that regard, I’m pretty typically American. And politically, I’m Libertarian so I really don’t want any type of governmental control over my life. The less the merrier as far as I’m concerned.
Americans used to all be that way. That’s kind of what drove us to independence from England. I’m oversimplifying it but we don’t like being told what to do. I mean, don’t tell that to the cancel culture of today though. It’s like everybody has to believe the same thing or be labeled as intolerant, racist, homophobic or whatever other name the main stream of society wants to call you…but I digress.
Suffice it to say that we don’t like being told what to do. We don’t like our government beating us over the head. It’s not like our government has actually had our best interests in mind ever.
But what if the ruler were good?
What if the king was benevolent? And what if that king turned our expectations upside down? What if the king, rather than being worried about extending and increasing his own power, extended power to his subjects? What if serving the king meant freedom?
We never see, in our modern world, a ruler who gives to those whom he rules. They all seem to be out for themselves. But not so our benevolent King. Consider our texts today:
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
In our Ezekiel text (one of my favorite prophets by the way), we are presented with an image of a shepherd. But this is not just any shepherd. This is a shepherd who takes tender care of his sheep. This is a shepherd who rescues his lost sheep. This is a shepherd who takes care of the weak. But this is also a shepherd who judges, who shepherds with justice those who are strong and fat of their own devices. This is a shepherd who turns things on their head. We would think, in our minds, that the sheep that most deserve the attention of the shepherd are the strong ones, the ones who can survive with minimal effort from the shepherd.
I mean, if we’re honest, that’s what we would do. We wouldn’t want to devote all our time to the weak and lost and broken. But this shepherd does.
He’s not like us.
In our Epistle text, St. Paul presents us with another image. This is a regal and royal image. This is an awesome and powerful image. Christ is the “firstfruits” who has “destroyed every sovereignty,” every power and every authority. St. Paul tells us that “he must reign.” This is a nonnegotiable ruler. His power is ultimate, even over death itself and all will be subjected to Him.
This has quite a different tone than our Ezekiel text. This is one of absolute power and might and strength and awe and glory. There is a finality to this ruler, an overarching completeness. St. Paul uses words like “all” and “every” and “last enemy” to show us that this ruler is absolute.
This universal imagery and rule is echoed in our Gospel text. Jesus, referring to Himself, says he will come “in his majesty” and “all nations shall be gathered together before him.” But, unlike our Ezekiel text and Epistle text, Jesus mixes his metaphors. He opens with this universal rule and authority and then says he will separate the sheep from the goats, hearkening us to both the other texts. And we are again told there will be judgment. Those on the right hand are “blessed of” the Father and will be given possession of “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To those on the left, he says something starkly different: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Jesus is not just saying that they will be cast into damnation but says that their damnation equates them with the devil and his angels. This is harsh stuff. And why? Why are they cast out and equated with demons?
Because there is an ethic to the Kingdom of God which will be brought to its fullness when the King returns. This is not a kingdom like the world where the powerful take what they want at the expense of others. This is a kingdom that gives rather than takes.
Imagine a King who dies so that his people may live!
So now we ask:
What would it look like to live under the rule of benevolent King?
“The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing.
He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment:
He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.
Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly it is!
And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.” (Douay-Rheims)
Behold your King!
Behold Him who ruleth over you and provides all your needs.
Behold the One who has set you in a place of lush peace and abundance, refreshing you with the water of His love.
Behold He who converts our soul and leads us to true justice.
Behold He who is with you constantly, comforting us in all our afflictions.
Behold He who provides us the feast of His love, even in the presence of the enemies of sin and death.
Behold His mercy.
Behold Christ the Lord.
Behold your King!
And He shall reign forever and ever.
Thanks be to God!
Our society, especially in the West, is an instant gratification society. We don’t want to wait for anything. Truth be told, we really don’t want to work for much either. We want what we want and we want it now.
Listen, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I’m not really sure when that happened for me. I mean, I grew up in a culture (country of Zambia on the African continent) that nothing was instant. It took a hot minute to do anything and everything. But somewhere along the way, I fell into this instant trap as well.
We don’t want to wait for anything.
I’m struck by the tone of anticipation and the anticipatory language of our texts for this week’s readings. I invite you to read them:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Notice the language:
Don’t be unaware.
Our world lulls us into the opposite of all these things. We watch. But we watch Fox News or CNN or the latest thing streaming on Netflix or our phones. What we don’t watch is Christ. We gaze into the bottomless pit of social media instead of gazing into the face of Christ. I’m reminded of Christ’s Passion. In the garden, during His agony, He told Sts Peter, James and John to “watch and pray.”
What are you watching for?
Be vigilant. We are lulled into drowsy comfort by our full bellies and conditioned homes. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for the stuff that God has blessed me with and I enjoy living in a comfortable home. But our 1st world comforts have glassed over our eyes and we are no longer vigilant. The vigilance of concentrated prayer and study of God’s Word no longer keeps our attention. Speaking personally for me, this is one of the things that has attracted me to pursue a “monastic” prayer life. I utilize the Monastic Diurnal for my daily prayers and have found it be vastly helpful in this realm for me. I am forced to be vigilant and pay attention. I have also begun praying the Rosary in Latin which, again, forces my attention and vigilance.
Be vigilant. Don’t be unaware. Be ready. Stay awake.
And what is the result of all this waiting, all this vigilance, all this awareness?
Look at our reading from Wisdom. We see how wisdom is personified (we’ll come back to that). Wisdom is the result, the outcome, the gift of the waiting. As we wait, as we watch, as we gaze upon the face of Christ in prayer and study of His Word, we see. The promise of wisdom is fulfilled in the waiting. The promise of wisdom is more than “knowledge.” The promise of wisdom is the personification of wisdom.
The promise is the person of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus Himself tells us this in our gospel reading today. The wise virgins were vigilant and ready. They were prepared with the oil of patience to fill their lamps. They were awake and ready when the bridegroom arrived. Just as we must be awake, watching and waiting and gazing into the face of Christ as we meditate in prayer and upon His Word.
Wake up, slumbering Church! Be vigilant, Bride of Christ! Your Bridegroom cometh to claim His Bride! Will He find us ready? Will He find us vigilant and prepared, meditating upon His Word? Will He find us filled with the oil of hope and patience as we await His coming?
Church, let us watch. Let us be vigilant in prayer. Let us not be unaware and lulled into sleep and comfort by the distractions of the world. Let us be ready and stay awake, watching and praying.
The Bridegroom cometh! He cometh with the shout of victory and the joy of His Bride!
Thanks be to God!