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November 19, 2008
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Nov. 23: Solemnity of Christ the King
Theme: King of kings. Ezekiel was a priest and prophet who ministered to his fellow Jews in the years leading up to and during the Babylonian Exile (586-537 B.C.). The destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people came about because of the decadence of the nation brought about by corrupt rulers. In the verses preceding our first reading, Ezekiel denounced Israel’s so-called “shepherds” (i.e. kings) who did nothing for their people, but only used them. “The weak you have not strengthened! The sick you have not healed!” he cries out. They were more concerned about themselves than the good of the people. Ezekiel announces that God himself will seek out his sheep and care for them. In the second reading Paul says that since Christ has been raised from the dead he rules over every “authority and power.” He is the Good King and the Good Shepherd who brings life to the world. But not everything in the world is subject to him yet—the “culture of death” still holds sway. In this week’s Gospel we hear about the Last Judgment in the familiar parable of the sheep and goats. Some day all nations, including our own, will appear before Christ the King to be judged.
Key verse: “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “Christ, King and Lord of the universe, made himself the servant of all, for he came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ For the Christian, ‘to reign is to serve him,’ particularly when serving ‘the poor and the suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder.’ The People of God fulfills its royal dignity by a life in keeping with its vocation to serve with Christ” (No. 786).
Pope Benedict XVI: “In the ancient Near East in royal inscriptions from the area of Babylonia and Assyria, the king refers to himself as the shepherd instituted by God. Pasturing sheep is an image of his task as a ruler. This image implies that caring for the weak is one of the tasks of the just ruler. The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is a Gospel of Christ the King, an image that sheds light upon the kingship of Christ” (“Jesus of Nazareth”).
Application: This week’s readings are a fitting climax to a long and tense election season. The solemnity of Christ the King is a sober reminder that to be “one nation under God” means that we are under his judgment as well as under his protection. We have a new president. We hope and pray that he’ll be a “good shepherd,” governing our nation with charity and justice for the weakest and most defenseless members of society.