Lectionary Readings for November 23. Ez 34:11-24, Ps 95, Matt 25: 31-46, Eph1:11-23
Today's reading follows beautifully from last week! Last week there was a strong warning about the dangers of complacency, a kick to our "collective complacent butts." The Ezekiel reading goes further. Here the rich and strong are not just comfortably ignoring the poor, but shown as actively hurting them. They are like fat sheep that eat and drink their fill, then spoil the pasture and water for those who had to wait. They also push and butt with their horns, scattering the weaker sheep so they do not have the protection of the herd.
The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. In our rush to grow the economy and maintain (arguably unsustainable lifestyles) countries ravage the environments. fouling land and water. We displace aboriginal people, move the voiceless poor when they are inconvenient (every Olympic city has done this), and cut social programs for the disadvantaged at the same time as taxes are decreased for big business.
When I think of those in "power" in our society, it is the rich. It would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to run for public office if they were poor or even middle class. While I believe there are some excellent people in our governing bodies, I also believe it is very difficult for anyone to work against a status quo that tends to protect itself. When Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, (Mark 10:25) we all have to think what that means for us. While I can easily point at other people as "rich" in comparison to my family, we certainly aren't poor! I have a vested interest in the status quo too-I like my comfortable home, my recreation options, etc...I am comfortable enough to be complacent, to ignore others who need help. Am I defending my way of life by complacently accepting things that "foul the land and water for others?" Am I a fat sheep in the herd? Maybe we have to ask others to help us with the question; "do I look fat to you?" Is my life a blessing to those around me, or am I taking more than my share and hurting others?
There is excellent encouragement in Matthew 25 for us "maybe fat"sheep. Here those who make a lifestyle out of helping others are commended and rewarded. The funny thing is that they don't even realize that they've been helping. Feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and clothing the naked is something so built in to their lifestyle and who they are, that it just happens.
I love the way this lifestyle feels so natural, and so naturally contrasts with the complacency condemned in the readings. Here is encouragement for the healthy sheep, the ones who aren't too fat or too thin, Instead of striving to become part of the elite, the healthy are those who turn away from that striving to reach a hand out to those who need help. They know when they have enough, and they use their "extra" to help others have enough too.
This last Sunday of the Christian Calendar year (before Advent) is called "Christ the King" Sunday. It is the day we celebrate Jesus as King of all, our lives and the world. It's amazing that we celebrate a caretaker king, a shepherd. This king is interested in the economics of relationships, in the health of all his subjects. He encourages his flock to live justly, but when they do not, he will step in.