Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 26th November

Psalm 100 ; Ezekiel 34 : 11 – 16, 20 – 24; Ephesians 1 : 15 – 23; Matthew 25 : 31 – 46

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Tim Lansdown (Hanham).

Within the two millennia of Christianity the celebration of “Christ the King” Sunday is but a recent addition to our worship. It was only in 1925 that it was instituted by Pope Pius X1 as a response to increasing secularisation across Europe and even doubts within the Christian Church about the person of Jesus. Originally it was celebrated on October 31st but then in 1969 Pope Paul V1 moved it to the Sunday before Advent, so that the final Sunday in the liturgical year should conclude on a note of certainty and triumph.

There are many references in the New Testament to Christ as King. Pilate in the judgement hall asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews (Matthew : 27:11) and in 1 Timothy 1 : 17 there is reference to Christ as the King of the ages. In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats it is the king who sits in judgement over his people. History is littered with examples of monarchs who exercised power, Henry VIII perhaps the prime example in our native history. King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta to restrict his powers. In the game of chess, the king is the only piece that can’t be removed from the board.

The parable sets the scene in a grand court of law with the king, the Son of Man, surrounded by angels, seated in glory. But when the king addresses, first the sheep and then the goats the mood changes. The statement states, “when I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was naked.’’ So, the image of the king lording it over his people is overturned. Jesus is identifying himself with the poor, the stranger, the unloved. Here is what Paul describes as the foolishness of the gospel (1 Cor 1 : 18 ff) which turns the values of the world upside down and lays down a challenge to the followers of the king as to how they live their lives. Notice also, the surprise of both the sheep and the goats to the statement of the king. “When did we see you hungry, thirsty …?” they ask. And the answer from the king resounds in the minds of us all with the challenge, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my people you did it to me.” which suggests that the whole Kingdom of God is built on the way we treat each other particularly those at the bottom of the pecking order. This might seem to fly in the face the face of Paul’s mantra that works without faith is dead. But the fact that the sheep were surprised but what they had done suggests that the actions were driven not by duty but by love, not by works but by a spirit filled desire to live out the gospel. Likewise, for the goats it was through a lack of love that they failed to see the need of others. We could compare the love demonstrated by St Francis who embraced the leper, and as he did so the face of the leper changed to the face of Jesus. May we see Jesus in those of us who are in need of love.

God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray, melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain; come change our love from a spark to a flame.

STF 693 – Graham Kendrick © Make Way Music, 1993