1. There is a THEME that runs through the 1st reading, the psalm and our Gospel. They each take the ROLE of a SHEPHERD and the tasks of herding SHEEP and apply them to our earthly or Spiritual lives. The 1st reading and Gospel both employ the task of a shepherd separating his flock: sheep from the rams or sheep from the goats. In EZEKIEL, “As for you my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats”. In MATTHEW, Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes, …he will separate them…as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” It was common practice to keep goats and sheep in the same flock. In bad weather, the shepherd had to separate them at night and take the goats into a warmer enclosure since their coats were insufficient to keep them warm. He also had to separate them, because goats were also stubborn, disobedient and destructive at times. The males would not protect the their ‘mates’ from other male goats. Rams on the other hand would and as a whole sheep stayed together for protection. So goats needed extra attention.
A shepherd performed these ‘Tasks’ as acts of CARE for his flock. Scripture uses it today as a way to give us a CAREFILLED WARNING. Jesus will employ that same shepherding task at the ‘End of the time’, to separate not sheep from goats, but the good people from the bad. This separation to allow ‘Divine Judgment’ to be rendered upon all nations…all people. Where upon the SENTENCE will be carried out. Until then, these scripture verses are ‘Words to the Wise’. For now Jesus will ‘TEND’ all peoples, with the CARE of a good shepherd of Psalm 23.
2. We are celebrating the feast of Christ the King, yet what we hear is how He is a Shepherd. In Jewish theology, the one and only God was viewed as a FATHER-CREATOR. They believed that God had a universal ROLE over all creation and creatures, man included, simply because He is the creator. Yet God also had other titles as well. The Israelites had Him in the ROLE of a ruler, so he was also called a SHEPHERD- KING. In Ezekiel we heard God speak; “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” In this role, for His flock, He personally is responsible for the CARE and SALVATION of His people. In JUST governance of His Territory, the ‘Kingdom of God’, the Shepherd-King brings about the well-being and happiness of His people.
In Old Testament scripture MANY times, we see how God Himself (as Father-Creator-Shepherd & King) cared for the Israelites, His Flock by powerful manifestations ie: their Exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, the establishment of Israel as a Kingdom and their return from Babylonian Exile.
3. In the New Testament, we also have great manifestations of God, as Creator-Father or Shepherd-King. Only this time the manifestations are seen in the life of His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of that Ezekiel Verse, “I myself..will tend My sheep”. Great Manifestations in His Virgin Birth, in His miracles and teachings, in His Resurrection and establishment of the Church.
Jesus even identifies Himself as God, Shepherd & King. In these roles, He came to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We become citizens of that Kingdom of Christ by faith, repentance, and baptism. These Actions signify and produce an interior remake of ourselves, whereby Christ the SHEPHERD-KING , will establish his reign in our hearts. Thus we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
And with the formation of His Church, His presence and His Ministry to that Kingdom continues today. It is through the Church, its’ Sacraments and our actions, that Jesus can reign in our hearts.
4. Today we also see another ROLE revealed. Jesus Shepherd-King is also DIVING JUDGE. As citizens we are called to account for this privileged status. It ‘Means Something’ to live in the Kingdom of God and with it comes responsibility. Therefore Christ the DIVINE JUDGE will rend judgment at the end of time on how well be live that citizenship.
To live righteously in the Kingdom, Jesus lists 6 human CONDITIONS; these are the concerns of the Shepherd-King for His flock. He also lists 6 acts of COMPASSION. We are called to share in the Royal work of His Kingdom through acts of justice, self-sacrifice, peace and freedom, on behalf of those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and broken.
5. The theme today is all about DIVINE CARE, that comes to us in those roles of that ‘Total Package’ we call God. Some of it STERN, some of it TENDER. Psalm 23 tells us, that Divine Care starts right here on our earthly pilgrimage and continues with us to our final destination… God’s house forever.
Therefore we need to pay attention to that CAREFILLED WARNING in the Gospel. Yes, we are a Royal People, a people set apart. And we share in our Kings Crown and Throne, but while here on earth, that crown is a wreath of thorns. And His throne is the wood of the cross. As our King Lives, so we must live. We too, must care for and protect others as He does.
If we are wise like Sheep, we will banned together. Quietly, submissively and persistently caring for others. The reward will be peace and contentment forever in the HOUSE of God. If we are like goats, we will scatter and disregard others in the herd. We will be stubborn and destructive to the end for our own gain. For those actions, Jesus will separate us from His care, and that has its reward too… we will live forever in the HOUSE of Hell.