Feast of Christ the King
Sunday 26th November 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
When the Son of Man comes in glory, with all his angels, he will be seated on the throne of glory. All peoples will be gathered before him and he will separate them as a shepherd, at the end of the day, separates his sheep and goats. The sheep will be moved to his right and the goats to his left. Then the King will declare to the ones on his right:
‘Come close, you, my Father’s blessed ones! Come receive your inheritance: the Kingdom prepared before the world began.
For I was hungry…and you gave me food!
I was thirsty….and you gave me drink!
I was a stranger…and you took me in!
Naked…and you gave me clothes!
Sick…and you came to visit me!
I was in prison …and you came to see me!’
But those righteous people answered him in surprise;
‘But when did we see you hungry and feed you?
Or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and take you in?
Naked and give you clothes?
When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’
And the King will answer them: ‘I tell you, in truth, in the deepest truth, whenever you did these to even the least of my brothers and sisters you really did it to me.’
Then he will turn to the ones on his left and say:
‘Get out of my sight; you cursed ones, into the fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels,
because I was hungry… and you gave me nothing to eat!
I was thirsty…and you gave me nothing to drink!
I was a stranger… and you didn’t let me in!
Naked…and you gave me no clothes!
Sick, or in prison…and you didn’t visit me’!
Then they will answer him: ‘When, Lord, when? When didn’t we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison and not serve you? When? When?’
And he will answer them ‘I tell you, in truth, in the deepest truth, whenever you failed to do this to even the least of my brothers and sisters you failed to do it to me.” And these people will go to eternal punishment but the righteous to eternal life.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Lord God, divine shepherd;
in the days ahead, just as it has been all my life,
I shall not want for anything.
You will rest me in rich pasture
and lead me beside calm waters.
You will bring my inner being back where it belongs,
and lead me along the right paths,
for the sake of your name.
Even when things seem at their darkest,
sensing your presence, I fear nothing;
you are sure of the way ahead, and you protect me.
Indeed, in spite of the adversity surrounding me
you continue to provide abundantly for my well-being;
anointing me with your hospitality
and pouring out blessing upon blessing.
Surely good and lovingkindness will pursue me all my days,
I will return, and you, O Lord,
shall be my dwelling-place for days without end.
For use in worship, with acknowledgement. (c) Jeff Shrowder 2002.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Gracious God your love upholds all creation and embraces all people. In the graciousness of your Son’s life, you embraced the weakest in our midst. Fill us with your Spirit that we may welcome and serve all as he did. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This dramatic Gospel reading is the last piece of teaching Jesus gives in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the culmination of an apocalyptic section that, while warning us to be conscious of the final judgement ‘at the end of time’, actually focuses on how we should live in the present. It comes after three parables of warning; the conscientious steward, the ten bridesmaids and the teaching on the talents. While each of these parables warned us to be alert and ready at all time, it did not specify what we should do. The scene of Judgment does. If we are to be recognised by Christ as his own at the end of time, we must serve the weakest in our midst now. The mercy that we wish to receive must flow through us towards all, especially the marginalised.
The peculiar feature of this teaching is that neither group of people, the just nor the unjust ‘recognised’ Jesus in the marginalised. That is understandable concerning the unjust but not for the just. Perhaps the answer to this seeming anomaly may be found back in that first piece of teaching Jesus gave in this Gospel: the Beatitudes. There, in a truly mystical teaching, the disciples were exhorted to embrace a number of dispositions that ‘our world’ despises or rejects: poverty of spirit, gentleness, mourning, hunger and thirst, mercy, purity, peacemaking, persecution. As people embrace such a transforming spirit they embrace others in humility and love. The capacity to make distinctions between themselves and others falls away. They become like Jesus, the Son of God, who came and identified himself with our humanity. The circle of love that followed from God flows through them to others and returns for God. So caught up in that love they do not recognise that they are doing anything special. They are just living as Jesus intended – with Immanuel – God with us.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
At first glance, the criterion on which Jesus judges people lacks any of the markers of religion. No-one is questioned on attendance at Sunday Mass, the saying of daily prayers, their belief in the dogmas and doctrines of the Church – or even on their sexual morality.
But note that first sentence began with the words ‘at first glance’. What is essential to the criterion on which people are judged is the central belief of Christian faith: God is with us, each person is holy and with the coming of God’s Son in our flesh, Jesus identifies himself with every person. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, prisoners, those whom society moves to the margins and ignores, these are the ones in whom Jesus especially chooses to be present in every time and every place. One of the dangers of the practice of religion is to divide people into them and us – ‘them’s’ who don’t keep our religious rules and ‘us’ who do. What we often fail to appreciate is that the keeping of many of our religious rules and practices, the understanding of dogma and doctrines, presumes certain abilities and resources that others often lack. So rather than have us tempted to believe that we are better than these people, Jesus tells us that he is present in them. Our religious practice is not to separate us from those people but rather to soften our hearts and give us the grace to be able to see and serve Jesus in the most unlikely people in the most improbable places.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
In Japan, pottery for the tea ceremony is regarded as the highest of art forms. The best bowls for this ceremony often look like the simplest of cups. To our Western eyes they may look common, plain or even flawed. But for the pottery master making them, they are the culmination of years of training and practice. In spite of that, when the potter makes them, they are to be made as though it was nothing at all…as though they were just another pot. This is part of the Japanese recognition that the simplest of things or actions can open us to extraordinary depths.
When Jesus commends or condemns people in this Sunday’s scene it is on the basis of actions of mercy done or not done in the simplest of circumstances. Both groups of people didn’t recognise Jesus in the needy people but one group acted compassionately towards them, the other group just ignored them. We could be tempted to think that the first group were naturally kind as they didn’t realise what they were doing. Not so, life isn’t that easy and God’s salvation isn’t that unfair. No, those actions seemingly done almost spontaneously without thought of salvation come after some time practicing virtue. We discipline ourselves to follow Christ, taking up our cross, consciously being kind, sacrificing our preferences for the sake of others so that, in the end, loving kindness comes so naturally that we don’t even realise what we are doing. Having consciously practised the steps of kindness and thoughtfulness, we can spontaneously dance the mystery of love.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– Fresco by Giotto
– Florentine mosaic of Christ in Judgement.
– Last Judgement by Michelangelo.
– Stefan Lochner Last Judgement
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on where ‘the poor and weak’ are in your life.
Who may hunger for a kind word, thirst for some companionship, be sick of heart, a prisoner to addiction, feel naked with a sense of failure, a stranger because of poor social skills?
As you recognise these people, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into action which serves their need.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Jesus identified himself with the people on the margins. Consider a group of marginalised people who make you feel uncomfortable or towards whom you find yourself dismissive. Hold these people before you and try to imagine what type of things could have led them to be living the way they do. Now hold them in your heart and ask Jesus to enlighten you. Sit with the tension in your heart and wait for Jesus to resolve it.
Rest in the love of your God.