Biblical Words 
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm
God’s special care is for the lost sheep, “the least of these,” to whom God sends the good shepherd, Christ the King.
This Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. This day is traditionally called the festival of the Reign of Christ (formerly the festival of Christ the King). It caps the year by acclaiming the royal figure through whom God’s care and justice are exercised.
The last fifteen chapters of the
book of Ezekiel are devoted to prophecies of
The whole prophecy, all of chapter
God first indicts and judges the past kings for their exploitation and abuse of the people (34:1-10). The shepherds had turned into predators. This part of the chapter is worth noting, even though it is not in the Lectionary, because it is a direct parallel to today’s Gospel reading about the judgment of the nations.
Ah [Woe to], you shepherds of
After these false and corrupt shepherds have been eliminated, what is to happen? The prophecy announces that God, in person, will become the shepherd of the people.
I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. … I will bring them into their own land; …and I will feed them with good pasture. …I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice (verses 11, 13-14, 16).
Even among restored flocks there are innocent ones and there are trouble-makers.
Therefore…I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock… (verses 20-22).
God’s own judgment, however, needs some specific implementation. That is where God’s representative comes in, a renewed Davidic king.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them (verses 23-24).
God’s appointed representative, continuing the good shepherding work of the great king David, will shepherd—and maintain justice among—God’s restored sheep, the people of God’s hand.
The psalm is an exuberant summons to praise and worship, appropriate to folks about to celebrate a (social distancing) Thanksgiving. The psalm is a series of imperatives:
“Make a joyful noise…”
Hey, wake up! Time to raise the holy howl and prostrate yourself before Yahweh!
“Know that Yahweh is God… “
Get straight in your head: God is God – and our Lord!
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving…”
Join the procession! You are those privileged to access the really holy precincts!!
Acclaim with all: “His steadfast love endures forever!”
In the Epistle reading the speaker is engrossed in a long, convoluted thanksgiving (actually a report of what he prays concerning the Ephesians). This thanksgiving first includes the faith, love, and hope of the Ephesians’ new life (faith and love in verse 15, hope in verse 18).
The thought of the glories of what Christians have to hope for carries him on to an ecstatic vision of God’s great power working through Christ.
This power of God, the source and means of salvation for all humans, has established Jesus Christ as the kingly ruler over all powers—cosmic, demonic, human—that can threaten or in any way determine the lives of the elect who are gathered in the church.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named not only in this age but also in the age to come. (Verses 20-21, NRSV.)
This whole passage is probably guided by early Christian use of Psalm 8 in their liturgies, where the “son of man” (= Son of God) exercised such rule over the created realm.
…what is man that you are mindful of him,
The closing words of our Ephesians reading pick up this Psalm’s theme: “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church” (verse 22).
This is the celebration of the Reign of Christ in the apostolic church.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the last of the eschatological teachings reported by Matthew in Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples.
Though often thought of as a “parable,” technically it is not one. It does not begin, “the kingdom of heaven will be like this” (25:1), or “For it is as if a man…” (25:14). Here Jesus tells the disciples what will take place in that transcendent time when the final judgment has in fact come and there will be a final settlement of God with “all the nations.”
The scene could be modeled on
Ezekiel’s indictment of the wicked kings and their replacement by the Davidic
king as the good shepherd (see the prophetic reading above). Here, however, it is the chosen king who
carries out the judgment on the nations.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,
then he will sit on the throne of his glory” (verse 31,
All the nations are judged
according to how they treated the needy ones, “the least of these.” (In the Greek text at verse 40 they are,
literally, “to my brothers, the least ones,” which the
The interpretation of this vision turns decisively on the anonymity of “the least of these.” If the needy LOOKED LIKE they would be important in the last days, folks would care for them and run after them eagerly. If those who ministered to the anonymous needy did so because of some great reward in it, they would have disqualified themselves as true servants. It is precisely the improbability, the cast off and unimportant nature of these neglected ones of the nations that makes them so important to God and God’s royal representative. (The Ruling Lord is ruled by compassion!)
The least of these are precisely those ignored by the “important people” of the world!
[The following is now ancient history, but I let it stand in memory of good things done!]
This Biblical passage was a kind
of charter text for Protestants for the Common Good (now carried on in
Community Renewal Society’s Policy work).
From its organization in 1996,