Saturday, November 19, 2011
Nov. 20, 2011: Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King
Early this year, eye-catching billboards in major U. S. cities drew attention from drivers as they passed the billboards. The signs read, “Save the Date: May 21, 2011.” Weeks before May 21, people were out in the streets with smaller signs with the same message, drawing much attention from passer-bys. May 21 passed, and then the billboard signs were changed slightly. The date, “May 21” was spray-painted over with “Oct. 21.” Again people were out in the streets weeks before the new date carrying signs, drawing much attention. Then, October 21 passed. Many people were disappointed and disillusioned. The pastor who set those two dates, May 21 and then October 21, made an on-air apology. Millions of dollars were spent on the signs, “Save the Date: May 21, 2011. The Return of Christ. The Judgment Day” and the event did not come to fruition. There are plenty of folks buzzing about with a new date in 2012 for when the world, as we know it, will end. Undoubtedly new signs will go up, and the businesses that specialize on judgment-day supplies will profit much. Specialty real estate brokers who sell abandoned US Military missile silos say that the market for converting such cement fortress into a judgment day home is booming. One broker was asked on TV whether he would buy one himself and he replied, "I would never buy one. But don't tell my customers." Yet, today’s scripture tells us that this is not how Jesus wanted us to prepare for his Second Coming.
When we think of the Judgment Day, we conjure up imagery of a courthouse, where the judge strikes his gavel to give the defendants the judgment of 'guilty' or 'not guilty.' In that courthouse, there is nothing that defendant can do other than to shudder in fear. I remember going to a parish courthouse for a hearing on a speeding ticket. I went there wearing my clerical collar secretly hoping that the ticket would be dismissed because of my status. Yet as I stood before the judge who asked me, "Do you plead guilty or not guilty for speeding 50 mph in 35 mph zone?", I had a flash of the final judgment day and I realized that not only was my title useless in traffic court but it would also not get me a free pass into heaven. I responded, "Guilty, your honor." He replied, "That will be $300 for speeding, plus the court fees."
Jesus shows us a very different scene of Judgment Day in the Gospel. The imagery is that of a King who asks whether we were compassionate and caring to him. "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." We ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?" The King simply replies, "... whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'' St. John of the Cross succinctly summarizes this passage into two simple sentences: "Love is repaid by love alone", and "In the evening of our lives, we will be judged by love alone."
Jesus tells us that somehow what we do for others is intimately connected with what we do for him. A parishioner told me that in the 'old days' when nuns were still teaching at the schools, a nun always said to the children, "There is Jesus walking by," pointing to some random person. It's a great mystery how the kindness, gentleness, compassion, and patience we show a person, is in fact showing our love for God himself. Yet how difficult it is, sometimes, to be kind, gentle, and patient with another person! Our capacity to love falls pitifully short of the love that Jesus showers upon us every day.
We get a glimpse of the love Our Lord showers upon us each day in today's First Reading. Our Lord said, "I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock...I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will give them rest. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal..." How great was Jesus' sacrifice on Calvary for all of us that we may live forever with Him and with the Father! We must look to Our Lord and see how he endured much pain and anguish out of love for the Father and for us. Our Lord was obedient to the Father, and he asks us to be obedient to the Father as well by living and loving as Jesus showed us. All of us struggle with accepting Our Father's will for us because we struggle with our own desires and worldly ways.
The folks who are preoccupied with the Judgment Day say that the next date will be 12/12/12. Undoubtedly there will be people who will spend this coming year stockpiling food, provisions, and even weapons to give them a sense of security that they have prepared for the Judgment Day. Yet Our Lord remind us, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) Our Lord shows us how to truly prepare: will you accept the Father's will for you? Will you be obedient to the Father's will by serving and loving those around you?