Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24; Ephesians 1.15-end; Matthew
Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne
of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: keep
the whole Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of
peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.
"WHO do you say that I am?" Jesus's question, in the middle of
St Matthew's Gospel, hovers in the background on the feast of
Christ the King. Matthew's whole Gospel is the answer, opening with
the bald and bold assertion that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of
David and Abraham, and concluding with Jesus's claim to have been
given all authority in heaven and earth, sending his disciples to
make disciples of all nations, promising his presence to the end of
the age. Ephesians echoes it: Jesus Christ, seated far above all
rule and authority, calls people to recognise and know him.
So, on the one hand, Matthew makes no secret of the answer to
the question. On the other hand, he does. Today's Gospel pitches us
into the heart of the complexity. If Jesus is the Messiah, with all
authority, incarnate among us, coming in glory, why do people not
recognise him when they meet him?
Isaiah proclaimed (61.1-2) "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon
me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good
news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim
liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim
the year of the Lord's favour, and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn."
The Spirit's empowering precipitates compassionate action for
the oppressed. Because Matthew told us that Jesus was conceived and
anointed by the Spirit (Matthew 1.20, 3.16), fulfilling Isaiah's
prophecy that God's Spirit upon him and he would not break a
bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick (Matthew 12.18-20), it is
no surprise to find Jesus identifying himself with the poor and
needy. That is where we will find and know him, if we look hard
The Head Verger at Durham Cathedral and I meet regularly with
three churches in Durham to co-ordinate ministry for people who
turn up in need. Last time, unannounced, a young woman barged into
the room, and in very colourful language announced her anger at
having nothing in life. Abruptly, what we were discussing was, yet
again, in front of us in flesh and blood, demanding help. There was
not a lot we could do. The irony was not lost on us.
Our readings help us with the dilemma we faced in not being able
to fix her life instantly. We worship a God whose idea of kingship
is being involved in compassionate action. Ezekiel described God as
the true shepherd who personally seeks out his lost sheep, rescuing
the scattered and returning them to the safety of good, secure
pasture. This was a vision of woolly heaven. But the picture is
even better, because God's kingship is about compassionate action
to secure not just relief, but justice.
As Ezekiel describes, shepherds had to be hands-on. In the
previous chapter he, exiled in Babylon, received the message he
dreaded. Jerusalem was razed to the ground, and the nation's
freedom was over. He was so distressed that he was literally unable
to speak. Then the Lord came with a message of judgement on the
leaders of the people who had brought this disaster on the nation,
accusing them of being false shepherds refusing help to people who
were like sheep at the mercy of predators.
In this context of severe judgement of false shepherds who did
not care for the vulnerable people, God made the extraordinary
promise to humble himself to become a shepherd - a lowly job in the
pecking order of the day - for his defenceless people.
The prophets we have heard from in the past three weeks were
more like godly irritants than pastors, although ultimately that
may be pastoral ministry if people need to be jolted to attention.
On the feast of Christ the King, who do we say that Jesus is? If he
is who he claims to be, then he is both prophetic irritant and
pastor. So we will meet him in the poor and needy, as well as in
the breathtaking foretastes of his heavenly glory, which the
Ephesians experienced in worship. Are we to be found in all the
places where he can be found?