SEEING AND SERVING – Christ the King / Reign of Christ, Year A

November 26, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6 (1)
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

Shortly after I began a new full-time position in music ministry, my highly respected predecessor invited me to join him for lunch. I jumped at the chance.

On the appointed day, he met me at the church and suggested that we walk to the restaurant he had chosen—about a mile away. It was a straight shot through an area of the city that had in earlier decades been devastated by violence and poverty, but in recent years had experienced a wave of upscale development.

I was deeply struck by my colleague’s response to the many unhoused people that we encountered along the way. Not once did he avoid making eye contact. On the contrary, he looked directly at each person and greeted them. He stopped to speak to each one, and to most he offered at least a small amount of money in response to their request for help. I felt the sting of conscience as I thought how hundreds of others, including me, walk by each day, averting their gaze and feeling a bit conflicted about helping.

As I reflected on today’s Gospel reading, I remembered this experience and the impact that it made on me. I came to realize that what distinguished my colleague as a disciple was not his long and storied career as a church musician but his attention to the people he met each day, especially those most in need. He had allowed himself to see unhoused persons not as obstacles to be avoided but as human beings to be acknowledged, encountered, and assisted.

Today’s Gospel reading presents the only account of the final judgment found in the entire New Testament. The “king” is portrayed less as an exalted monarch than as a shepherd who gathers the sheep and leads them to eternal joy. This king is also a judge who unmasks those who fail to embrace the little ones—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, sick, and the imprisoned. The criteria for entrance into the kingdom are based not on lineage or religious practice but rather on recognition and service—seeing the face of Christ everywhere and bringing his compassionate love to every encounter. The reign of this shepherd-king is characterized not by blaring trumpets, perfectly executed rituals, or royal prerogatives, but rather by inclusion, mercy, and service.

The sheep who are welcomed into eternal joy are not being rewarded for their accomplishments. They didn’t even know the good they had done. No, those who showed love and compassion for the “least of these” had themselves been transformed by the love of God and could as a result love others from the heart. They saw those in need not as projects to be completed but as persons to be loved. “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” (Mt 25:25).

A Hymn for Today: “Come Now, You Blessed, Eat at My Table”

Hymn Society member Ruth Duck, FHS, has created a text that paraphrases the first part of today’s Gospel reading, then concludes with a prayer by the singing assembly that we may recognize and serve Christ as we encounter those in need. Listen here.

“Come now, you blessed, eat at my table,”
said Jesus Christ to the righteous above.
“When I was hungry, thirsty, and homeless,
sick and in prison, you showed me your love.”

When did we see you hungry or thirsty?
When were you homeless, a stranger alone?
When did we see you sick or in prison?
What have we done that you call us your own?

“When you gave bread to earth’s hungry children,
when you gave shelter to war’s refugees,
when you remembered those most forgotten,
you cared for me in the smallest of these.”

Christ, when we see you out on life’s roadways,
looking to us in the faces of need,
then may we know you, welcome, and show you
love that is faithful in word and in deed.

Text: Ruth Duck, b. 1947. © 1992, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Food for the Hungry, Drink for the Thirsty, relief, Hospital of the Holy Spirit, Biberach, Germany

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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