Reflections for November are by Archbishop Donald Reece, Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston
The story is told of the great orator Lawrence Olivier who, while performing in a Concert, included Psalm 23 as one of his recital numbers. After his rendition of the psalm, the entire audience gave him a standing ovation. Then, a curious thing happened; a little old man asked if he himself could be allowed to pray the same psalm. When the man had finished praying the psalm, no one stood up and applauded. However, there was not a dry eye in the audience; the people were so touched. Lawrence Olivier then said to the people. “Do you know what is the difference? I know the psalm, but this little man knows the Shepherd!” This difference raises the question: “Do we really honour Christ as our King/Shepherd?” To truly honour Christ, we must know him, but with the understanding that biblically speaking, to know a person denotes intimacy!
Knowledge of the King/Shepherd leads to love, and love leads to service. Isn’t that what our Catholic tradition teaches: “God made us to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next”? The notion of Christ as King implies total dominion over us who are his disciples, as St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death,” death being the wages of sin. To that end, the early Church Father, Origen, has this to say:
“If we would have God reign over us, then, sin must have no reign in our mortal body. We must put to death what is earthly in us and bear the fruits of the Spirit, so that God will walk in us as in a spiritual garden and reign alone in us with his Christ…” [Origen, “On Prayer, Ch. 25]
The Last Judgement in Matthew’s Gospel dramatises the reign of God versus the reign of sin. Those who obey God’s command to love others as they love themselves, are numbered in the reign of God and inherit eternal life. Those who refuse to love, because of selfishness, are excluded from the kingdom of God. Why? The Kingdom which Christ inaugurated by his death and resurrection, is characterised by Love, Truth, Justice and Peace—all of which are opposed to selfishness, which is at the heart of sin.
Jesus invites each of us to enter into his kingdom by being conformed to those characteristics which ought to regulate our Christian life style. Because this is a life-long process, we need to allow Jesus our King/Shepherd to be at the centre of our lives. To that end, we do well to accept Jesus’ invitation to intimacy:
“Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne” [Rev. 3: 20-21].
Before Jesus ascended to his Father, he commissioned his disciples to feed his sheep. The baton of shepherding has been passed on from Jesus, the Shepherd/King to Peter and the other disciples—ourselves included—for this commissioning to shepherd one another spans all times and nations until Jesus comes again in His glory.
Therefore, Christians in today’s world, replete with upside-down values and questionable morals, are called by Christ the Good Shepherd to be aware of their vocation to mirror the Saviour in all aspects of life. We are called to put on Christ to the extent that we, too, must become shepherds in different spheres of life: in our homes, in our Parish communities, in the market places and workplaces.
Those of “the household of faith” who are in leadership positions in civil society are also called to shepherd those whom they serve with justice and equity. The challenge to Christian leaders in society is to serve as the yeast and light in a situation that needs alteration so that people can live dignified and decent lives. To do this is to espouse the Cross by standing up for Christian principles; this is tantamount to “bucking the system” that is far removed from kingdom values and the common good.
Prayer: “Christ, our King and Good Shepherd, give us the grace to collaborate with you in the work of your Kingdom by reflecting in our lives the work of Truth, Justice, Love, Peace, Unity and Goodness. May your Kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”