Homily for Christ the King
November 20, 2005
St. Martin de Porres, Cincinnati
(Based on Ezechiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthews 25:31-46)
The passage we heard from the prophet Ezechiel today appears to be a very positive and comforting one. The Lord God “myself” will rescue and gather and bring back and pasture and give rest. “I myself” is repeated again and again. What could be more comforting than to hear such promises from the Lord?
But if we step back and look at the context in which this prophecy comes, we discover that something very different was going on. Let me read it for you:
Thus the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, in these words prophesy to them. Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; my sheep were scattered over the whole earth, with no one to look after them or to search for them.
Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd . . . I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths. (34:1-10)
And then follows the passage we read about the Lord pasturing the sheep. The context sounds sadly all too contemporary, doesn’t it?
We live in a church that is wounded and in pain, a church much diminished
The scandal of sexual misconduct is enough all by itself. I am from Philadelphia where the people experienced a huge tragedy. The news carried the story of a good priest going into a supermarket in his Roman collar. A total stranger came up to him and spit at him, shouting “You faggot!”
The vision of a life-long celibate priesthood of service seems not attractive enough to draw sufficient men to care for our people’s needs. And sadly we have to admit that some parents would actively dissuade their son from taking up that life if he indicated his desire. And when over 200 bishops gathered around our pope for three weeks of reflection at the recent synod on the Eucharist they seem — apart from a few courageous bishops who spoke up — to have been incapable of imagining any other way of doing things. Stay with the status quo, even if that means people won’t have the Eucharist they say they esteem so highly. Our leaders have lost any credibility to affect public policy.
It would be too easy to blame our situation only on our leaders, the bishops and priests. Any people gets the leaders they deserve, the leaders they demand. The church is one single body and we all share responsibility for it. If we claim our part of the glory when the church does something right, we must acknowledge our complicity in its failures.
It is in that context that Yahweh says in effect in the passage of Ezechiel, “I am taking over. I myself.”
Every crisis is an opportunity for growth, for deepening our understanding of who we are and what the Lord calls us to. We have work to do, all of us. There are “sovereignties and authorities and powers” still to be overcome. The reign of Christ as King is still far from being established. We read in First Corinthians that death is the final enemy, and death does not consist only in physical death. There is the death of fear, the death of childish dependence, the death of avoidance of responsibility still weighing on us.
We read with joy that Yahweh himself will do the pasturing, but that is not a license for us to sit back and wait passively for the coming of the Kingdom. Because in the Incarnation of Jesus Yahweh has taught us how that shepherding will be accomplished. Christ has identified himself with us so profoundly that he will act in and through our action. That is the meaning of the scene from Matthew. It is you and I who must be the hands of Christ; it is you and I who must be the compassionate voice of Christ; it is you and I who must be the caring touch of Christ, it is you and I who must be the example of Christ, the signs of the coming of his reign.
And that includes taking responsibility for what has gone wrong in our church, for assuming leadership.
We who are priests and bishops must become more accountable to you whom we are called to serve — but you must hold us accountable.
You and I must speak up, we must cry out — and even protest — for the Eucharist to be available to feed the hunger of our people, whatever change that takes.
We must call for the table of the Eucharist to be open to the divorced and remarried, as the few courageous bishops called out at the synod. And it is not just a few. Some years ago there was a synod for the whole country of Chile. All along that 2,000 mile country up and down the coast of South America there were gatherings of the people; in parishes and deaneries and dioceses, all under the direction of their bishops. The process concluded with a large assembly. One of our young Chilean Jesuits was there, and I asked him what stood out in his experience of the synod. And he said that when all that conversation came to a conclusion, after all that prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the highest priority called for by the people was that those in irregular marriage must be invited to be fed at the table of the Lord.
We must call for an end to the demonization of people who are gay or lesbian.
There was a famous cry during the time of the Nazi Holocaust: If not us, who? And if not now, when?
We must become like that pesky woman in the Gospel parable who pleaded her case before the judge so repeatedly that he finally gave in simply to get her off his back.
Christ will only be fully king when the whole Christ shares in his mission, when we carry our share as his body in this world.