Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2017
11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
When God established a monarchy for Israel, God intended that the kings act as God’s agents on earth. Whereas many Eastern cultures worshiped their monarchs as gods, for Israel, the only God was/is Yahweh. Israelite kings were mere shepherds, tending to God’s flock. However, several Israelite kings actually lend their flocks away from God, the most infamous being King Ahaz and his pagan worshiping wife, Queen Jezebel. It was due to these unfaithful kings that the prophets attributed Israel’s fall to Assyria and Judah to Babylonia.
In the above passage, God decries the horrible shepherd/kings of Israel/Judah. God declares that God, himself, will act as shepherd and gather all the scattered (into exile in Assyria and Babylonia) sheep of Israel. Interestingly, God affirms the covenant with David to make his family a dynastic one, despite the heretically reigns of some of them. The difference in this passage, is that the heirs of David are called “rulers”, not “kings”.
God not only critiques the king/shepherds of Israel, but also the priestly class, who have extorted from and oppressed the working class. God says these have “pushed with flank and shoulder against the feeble ones and butted them with your horns…” The fat, healthy sheep have gotten that way by hoarding food and water. What they cannot eat or drink themselves, they ruin (“muddy”) for anyone else. These God declares He will destroy.
1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Israel has long used this psalm as a “call to worship,” especially during the Feast of Tabernacles, a fall harvest festival, and one of the three high holy days in the Jewish calendar. It is also used during the Friday night Sabbath service. In early Christian liturgies, this psalm was made the Hymn of Praise in the Matins worship service.
This psalm is similar in form to coronation psalms, but here, it is not a human but God who is being “crowned”. Of what is God king? This psalm proclaims Yahweh is king of everything, because God has made everything. Thus, the psalmist invites all worshipers to “kneel before your king, your maker.”
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The city of Ephesus, under both the Greeks and the Romans, was a religious mecca, filled with temples to Artemis and many other gods. While a wonderful place for Romans and Greeks, it was not a hospitable place for Jews or Christians. Acts 19 tells of Paul’s travels there and that Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years, peaching, teaching, and tent making to support himself.
In this letter to the congregation in Ephesus, Paul celebrates that faith of this beset but hearty congregation. Paul delineates the rewards of being faithful to God in Christ: wisdom, the gift of the Holy Spirit, spiritual riches, Godly enlightenment, and being part of the body of Christ, the church.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year and the holiday of Christ the King. Each of the three lectionary years gives a different view of Christ being king. Lectionary year B, when the gospels of Mark and John are read, Christ the King Sunday’s gospel is from the passion story of John when Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate and is questioned about his Kingship. Year C, when the gospel of Luke is read, the Christ the King gospel is from Jesus’ crucifixion when Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” But Year A, which we are completing with this gospel from Matthew, portrays King Jesus in a different way; it is Judgment Day and King Jesus is judging all the people of the world.
Note that it is not just Jews and Christians that Jesus is judging, but true to Matthew’s gospel theme, Jesus is judging all peoples from all nations. As Jesus looks upon those to be judged, his criteria are not “Did you go to church/synagogue/Temple?” or “Did you tithe to the church/synagogue/Temple?” or even “Did you donate money or food to the chicken supper fundraiser at your church?” No, Jesus criteria are treatment of those in need around you. If you visited the sick and imprisoned, fed hungry people, clothed naked people, gave drinks to thirsty people, welcomed strangers, then Jesus welcomed you into the Kingdom of God. If you did not, then Jesus casts you out into eternal punishment.
For Lutherans, this description of Judgment Day sounds very wrong, because we don’t believe that good works can get you into heaven. “Salvation by Grace through Faith, apart from works of law.” But the book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Indeed, Jesus says that the light of faith cannot be hidden under a basket, but is more like a city on a hill, casting its light to all the surrounding area. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
The gospel of Matthew is depicting Jesus as the new Moses given a new law, a law of acts of compassionate love. And while that law, whether old or new, does not sit well with our Lutheran sensibilities, looking at this gospel story from a different vantage point illustrates perfectly Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian.” In this essay of Luther’s, his thesis statement is ““A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” Luther goes on to explain (in my favorite essay of his) that because of the mighty acts of Jesus, and the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit, Christians are made completely free from the bonds of any laws. What Christians are freed for is boundless acts of gratitude to Jesus for this amazing freedom. Indeed, we are free to exercise free will, but our choices have consequences, both good and bad. Jesus is showing in the above Judgement Day depiction, that choosing to love and serve others put you in harmony with God’s universal melody, whereas choosing to serve self puts you in discord with God. As God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is creator and king of all, it is better to live gratefully to God than thanklessly to self.