For Nov. 20, 2011: Christ the King Sunday, Year A

The Reading    Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
In last week’s reading, God chose Deborah as hero and judge to save Israel from the Canaanites; about a century later, God chose David as hero and king to save Israel from the Philistines. The book of Ezekiel comes after another four centuries during which rulers and the well-to-do fleeced the weak and powerless and flouted God’s rules. As Ezekiel predicted in earlier chapters, Jerusalem has fallen and the Temple is destroyed; he is among those forced into exile in Babylon. But here Ezekiel prophesies hope: a new hero who will rescue and tend the strayed sheep of God.

The Epistle    Ephesians 1:15-23
Ezekiel prophesied that God’s good shepherd was coming to gather and tend God’s flock. The Gospel for today foretells Jesus in glory at the end of time, judging between attentive sheep and thoughtless goats. In contrast to these future orientations, the passage from the letter to the Ephesians plants us squarely in the here and now: it tells us, even as we look forward to Advent, that Jesus is in charge this very day—and at work in us.

Further thoughts
Taken together, today’s three readings give a vivid picture of the power and magnificence of the triune God— and of God’s abiding and intimate interest in preserving the small, the weak, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the powerless, the imprisoned, and even those who by our earthly standards seem to deserve their poverty, their illness, or their incarceration. The Old Testament reading calls us to hope in the darkness while reminding us not to contribute to the darkness through mistreating our fellow humans. The Epistle reminds us that, however dark things look today, Jesus is in power today. The Gospel gives us specific marching orders—and a strong hint that showing mercy to our fellow creatures for their own sakes is more godly than showing mercy to try to buy our way into heaven.

Another note: Some of the commentaries on Ezekiel sheds light on one of those questions that an Episcopalian may not think about very consciously: Why are the leaders of Jewish congregations called “rabbi” and not “priest”? The short answer is that the priest or kohein was and is designated to perform rituals of animal sacrifice and atonement—rituals that could be performed only in the Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

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