Today’s Sunday is also ominously referred to as the last Sunday in Ordinary time, and not just because next Sunday a new liturgical year begins with Advent. Today’s Sunday reminds us that one day will be the last day of history: the day when Christ, Our King, returns in glory so that, as the Second Reading today phrases it, “God may be all in all,” and he reigns forever.
In today’s First Reading Ezekiel has just criticized the kings of Israel for not being good “shepherds” to Israel, their flock (see Ezekiel 34:1–10) and tells Israel that the Lord himself will shepherd them. This shepherd will rescue the sheep no matter how much they’ve strayed or been scattered. When he is among them he will tend them as a shepherd should. He will make sure they have the pasture and rest that they need, and will keep them together and take care of the sick and injured.
The Lord, however, also warns that the “sleek and strong” sheep will be destroyed, and that it is the right thing to do. The implication shifts back to the Lord being a good and just king who punishes the bad kings of his people. Those bad kings grew strong at the expense of their flocks and lost sight that they too were sheep of the Shepherd. Anything of danger to the flock gets ended. The Lord also has a word for the flock: they too will be judged. The Good Shepherd, Our King, does all this for us.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul outlines the process that began with Christ’s Resurrection from the dead and continues until the end of time when “God may be all in all.” Christ’s Resurrection was just the beginning. As the “firstfruits” the resurrections are just starting. Adam’s Fall condemned us all to death; Christ’s resurrection brings life back to us again. This won’t happen until he returns in glory. His Resurrection is a testimony that it will happen to those who believe in him as well.
At the Last Judgment everyone will be raised from the dead, good and evil, and judged by Our Lord in the sight of all. The powers he destroys, including death itself, are all the evils in creation that afflicted us. We will never have to fear them again, because they’ll be definitively overthrown by Christ. Then, with his Kingdom secure and established, Christ will offer it to the Heavenly Father who gave it to him in the first place, and the Heavenly Father’s desire to have those who believe in him gathered around his Son to be with him forever will be fulfilled.
In today’s Gospel we hear, in Our Lord’s words, what the Last Judgment will be like: at the end of time everyone, living or dead, will stand before the Judge and be evaluated on their charity. The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” receives an added incentive: what you do unto others you are also doing to the Lord himself.
Love for neighbor is not just the ethical and loving thing to do; it is a way to love God himself. We’ll be judged on love for both. Sometimes Our Lord hides really well in those we’re trying to love. Many saints throughout history have persevered in loving nasty, smelly, offensive, ungrateful people because they know they are loving Our Lord and showing those people how much God loves them. We may not feel loving or feel the love, but we continue to try based on a deeper spiritual conviction that it is the right thing to do and a way of loving Our Lord. When we live this deep spiritual conviction, driven by charity, the difference between those who don’t and us is like the difference between a nasty cranky goat and a humble simple sheep: night and day.
With every Our Father we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, and Our Lord, at the start of his public ministry, said the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom began with Christ preaching it and grows even today. It’s not just something that will come at the end of time. Charity and justice are the way we can help Christ’s Kingdom to spread. His Kingdom is a conquest of hearts, starting with ours. We should go out and through our justice and charity help him conquer the hearts of the whole world.
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11–12, 15–17; Psalm 23:1–6; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 28; Matthew 25:31–46.