Christ the King Sunday (November 20, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Eph. 1:15-23; Ezek. 34:11-24; Ps. 95:1-7a; Matt. 25:31-46
Fall weather has arrived in Jordan – a mixture of cool sunny and cool rainy days. Rain is always welcomed in a country that is in the top five globally for water scarcity. We spent much of the week in the office, catching up on items that fell by the wayside in our recent travel to Bosnia and Palestine.
We met with a Travel Venture Tours group led by Ed and Edie Bontrager of Harrisonburg, Va., and shared stories of MCC’s work in the region. The group has been touring Palestine/Israel and Jordan.
Our granddaughter Sydney is still at the University of Virginia Medical Center. She is gaining weight but still not consistently eating without the assistance of a feeding tube. Holden and Heidi are hoping to take her home on Monday – a few days before Thanksgiving.
In the region this week:
-Six Palestinian “freedom riders” were detained after boarding an Israeli bus that provides service to Israeli settlers in the Palestinian West Bank.
-An Israeli airstrike in Gaza injured the French consul, his wife and daughter.
-Ruth Dayan, surviving spouse of former Israeli leader Moshe Dayan, criticized the Israeli occupation and said the Zionist dream has run its course.
-Some 1,000 protesters in Amman called for political reforms and an end to Jordanian government corruption; they also called on the Syrian government to end attacks on the Syrian people.
–Iran’s nuclear program continues to be in the news. Iran claims that the program is for peaceful civilian purposes while Israel, the U.S. and a number of Western countries say Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons.
-A press report claims that Iran played an influential role in Iraq’s decision not to extend the Dec. 31 deadline for full withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The Common Lectionary readings for this “Christ the King” Sunday describe a king whose authority is supreme but who has the heart of a shepherd.
In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that God raised Christ from the dead “and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far 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.” (Eph. 1:20-21) From this position, Christ guides the church, which represents his body on earth (vv.22-23).
In the Old Testament reading, Ezekiel records Gods promise to faithfully shepherd the people. “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I 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.” (Ezek. 34:15-16) God will do this because human leaders have ravaged rather then shepherded the flock (vv.17-22).
The psalmist declares God’s praise: “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” (Ps. 95:3) And yet this King cares for the people. “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (v.7a)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes his eventual return as king to gather and judge the nations, separating people from one another “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matt. 25:32) The blessed sheep are those who have shared food with the hungry and drink with the thirsty; those who have welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner; those who have given clothing to the naked and cared for the sick (vv. 34-36). The cursed are those who failed to do these things. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus concludes, “just as you did it (did not do it) to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it (did not do it) to me.” (v.40, 45)
The Lectionary readings offer comfort that we have a shepherd who guides and protects us. But they also present the clear challenge that political and religious leaders — indeed, all of us — are accountable for treating others with compassion and justice.