THE SMELL OF THE SHEEP – Reign of Christ, Proper 29, Year A; Christ the King, Year A (RC)

November 22, 2020

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

During his first year in office, Pope Francis famously encouraged clergy to “be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.” As many churches celebrate the sovereignty of Christ on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Scripture readings mostly steer clear of regal images and instead portray God—and Jesus himself—as a shepherd.

Jesus proclaimed God’s realm as completely different from kingdoms and nation-states as we know them. In the reign of God, the “blessed” are not the rich, the powerful, or the influential, but the poor in spirit, the meek, the sorrowing, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for justice. Little wonder that the ruler is portrayed as a shepherd, a leader who is unafraid of “the smell of the sheep,” one who is characterized by service rather than power.

In today’s reading from Ezekiel, we hear of a God who promises to seek out the sheep, rescue them, lead them into safe pastures, and feed them. The concern of the divine Shepherd is for the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the weak. Jesus raises the stakes in the story we hear from Matthew as he explicitly identifies himself with the lowly and marginalized: “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 25:40).

The parables that precede today’s Gospel text focus on how we are to live as we wait for the coming of God’s reign – as bridesmaids waiting patiently for the delayed bridegroom or servants who have been entrusted with wealth to invest. Today’s Gospel message is more concrete and so perhaps more challenging.

How often do we call on the sick in our neighborhood, feed the hungry we see on the street, welcome the immigrants in our communities, or show any concern for those in prison? How forcefully do we advocate and work for a society in which their needs are treated as a priority? Yet, Jesus tells us, these are the criteria for entrance into God’s reign – not church attendance, adherence to doctrine, or any other religious practice.

Faith is expressed less in credal formulations than in doing the will of God just as Jesus did as he healed the sick, drove out unclean spirits, welcomed tax collectors, and ate with sinners. Authentic religious practice must always be accompanied by “the smell of the sheep,” helping us follow the lead of the Shepherd in showing compassion and care for the least among us.

A Hymn for Today: “See My Hands and Feet, Says Jesus”

This hymn text by Mary Louise Bringle, FHS, reminds the singing community that while we encounter Christ in those we serve (second stanza), we are called also to reveal the presence of Christ and advance the coming of his reign by serving as he did.

Touch that soothes and heals the hurting,
Hands that break a loaf of bread,
Steps that walk beside the weary,
Bearing burdens in their stead:

See my hands and feet, says Jesus,
Love arisen from the grave,
Be my hands and feet, says Jesus,
Live as ones I died to save.

Feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
Visit ones in need of care,
Give the homeless warmth and shelter:
Christ will find a welcome there. Chorus

Love and serve without distinction
All earth’s people, first and least.
Know within each act of kindness
Hope and wholeness are increased. Chorus

Hands that beckon little children,
Bind a wound, prepare a meal,
Feet that rush to share good tidings,
Christ arisen, still reveal. Chorus

Text: Mary Louise Bringle, b. 1953, © 2002, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission.

Image Credit: The Good Shepherd, Julien Dupre, 1851-1910

“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.