A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 34: 11-12,15-17)
Here we are at the end of another liturgical year. Next week, Advent begins.
Ancient Israel was a very pastoral country with numerous herds of sheep and many shepherds to protect them from predators and bad weather. David, who became Israel’s greatest king, was a shepherd who took good care of his people. Every king was required to, in a sense, be a good shepherd, but not all did. In this passage, Ezekiel has God saying that he will take care of the people in every way. In one of the truly moving passages in the scriptures, God says he will rescue them, give them land and rest, seek out the strays, and bring them back, bind up the injured, and heal the sick.
That and more is what our God does for us every day. God lives within us and all around us. That is true even when God seems far away, and we may feel unworthy or lost in depression, addiction, loss of a loved one, or some combination of painful situations. As we seek God, God is already there. We need only to be open and not think of God’s love as having magical powers. We ask for something, and there it is. No! What we have with God is never magic but rather mystery in the best and deepest sense—the mystery of unconditional love, a true ongoing relationship beyond our deepest longings.
(Psalm 23:2-3, 3-4, 5-6)
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” We truly want for nothing, at least not what we truly need, because Jesus, our shepherd, is always there for us. We have only to ask and wait patiently, something that is most difficult for us to do.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 15:20-26, 28)
A paradox is not the same as a contradiction. Our faith is full of paradoxes that are not contradictions. Saint Paul is talking about the paradox of the Resurrection. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we share in new life. It is happening now, but the paradox is that it is not yet complete. As we have mentioned several times in these commentaries, Paul and most of the early Christians thought that the completion, the Second Coming of Christ, was coming in their lifetime. That did not happen, and so, over the centuries, we have learned to live in the paradox—the life of the resurrection has already begun but is not complete. Let us focus on what already is and rejoice in it.A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Many people call themselves “Matthew 25 Christians” because they hear this part of the Gospel as a call from Jesus for social justice. The words are powerful and challenging.
“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.” Jesus says that then the righteous will ask when did they do all of these things for him, and Jesus replies, “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The next section has Jesus being harsh with those who did not do any of these things to help “one of the least ones.” So, where do you and I stand in our generosity and justice for those on the bottom of society? What is our responsibility? Can we actually do all those things for all those in need?
The key in this is to remember that we are not only individuals but part of communities. We can help through our parish outreach, by contributing to the Catholic Campaign collection, one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in America. We can also let our leaders know that we want them to provide services for those truly in need, through federal, state, and local programs. There are so many ways that we can fulfill our responsibilities to “these least ones.” It is one of the strongest commands of Jesus.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Image courtesy of www.LumoProject.com and is available at freebibleimages.org.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.