Here on the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, as we celebrate Christ the King, the first image we are presented is that of the shepherd and his sheep. The Prophet Ezekiel proclaims: “Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep…I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered.” (Ez 34:11-12) It’s good that God is looking out for us, for the lost sheep, for the strays, and the ones who have lost their way. Isn’t good that God is looking for them! What about us? We’re here in church. Aren’t we one of the faithful, a spiritual seekers, the ones paying attention to our life in God? Yes? Well that is how we see ourselves, yet Ezekiel insists that it is God who seeks out all of us. OK…that’s good, but can’t we prize the spiritual maturity we possess? Can’t we get a little credit here?
Not from Ezekiel. The prophet tells us that we are in fact so lost that God must take the trouble to find and rescue us. And we should ponder, how is it that the prophet thinks we are lost?
While we pondering (or not), the gospel comes along and we are confronted with the scene of judgment, of sorting out the sheep from the goats. I can tell you one thing, be you sheep or goat, everyone ponders “Well…. Lord, when did we see you?” Isn’t that odd: saved and accursed have the same question. Seems everyone suffers from a little darkness, a degree of blindness. It seems as though the division among the people may only be a reflection of a division within each one of us. I mean, look around. While we hope everyone here is a sheep, we wonder if there are among us those who are not gonna’ make the cut and end up with the goats. And if this community can be divided, it seems to me that even we as individuals are divided people – part sheep, part goat.
Maybe Ezekiel was onto something. Maybe that is the whole reason that the Good Shepherd comes to find us all is despite how we view ourselves as faithful people. We might be mostly found, but we are also scattered, divided, inconsistent, and only partially converted. We are in need of finding.
The prophet reminds us not to claim for ourselves tasks that are reserved for God alone – even as the gospel reminds that there are indeed tasks we to accomplish on God’s behalf. And maybe it is here that our imagination is a barrier to our way forward. We know we are to act in the world as if Christ is present in other people, yet we sometimes we lack the imagination. We struggle to see Christ in the stranger whom we believe we have reason to fear, the prisoner whose acts we find reprehensible, the sick we’d rather condemn because we’re convinced that their lifestyle contributed to their illness, and the hungry who should have been able to fend for themselves. If we cannot recognize Christ in these others, we fail in being faithful people, unable to see what God has placed before us. We are the people who need to be rescued from the darkness that blinds us and makes us liable to judgment.
What makes such a dynamic? I might suggest that it is the sin of sloth. “Sloth, you say?” Yes indeed, sloth – that as spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. Perhaps it is as simple as being slothful in our imaging Christ. We are too slothful to see that whatever we do for the least, we do for Christ. We just can’t or maybe just refuse to imagine it. It is the divided part of us that will look at a starving child on TV, feel the stirrings of compassion, but in the end turn away. We have our own problems here at home right? Yet we do nothing for even them.
It is the part of us that sees a women recently widowed, and respond in a way that says, “It’s not my mom.”
The part that sees the same elderly gentleman, sitting, alone in the park day after day, and says, “That poor soul” as we walk on to our next appointment.
It is that capacity of our divided humanity that looks out upon the world – and everything that God made – and our lives as lived say, “I don’t care” even as we reflexively respond: “I’m a good person, and I do care.”
Be you sheep or goat, everyone ponders “Well…. Lord, when did we see you?” We all have the same question. Seems everyone suffers from a little darkness, a degree of blindness.
And there it is…the division within ourselves to which we are blind; the division we can bring into prayer
And so as we enter this Thanksgiving holiday week, we have a lot to ponder, to reflect upon, and think about. Are we good people, are we slothful people, are we imaginative people. And no matter what we conclude, there is good news.
Be we lost or found, gathered or scattered, blind or visionary, or all of the above, all at once – either way, the Good Shepherd is looking for us.
For that we should be eternally grateful and give Thanksgiving.