Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
In his encyclical Laudato Si Pope Francis writes: “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” In other words, we are designed by God to keep these fundamental relationships in proper perspective and order. With our reading from Ezekiel and Matthew’s Gospel front and center on this Feast of Christ the King, we are able to give these primary relationships some much needed reflection. Also, assessing these relationships is a wonderful way to end one liturgical year and begin another.
When a sculptor gives form to a work of art, he or she leaves a part of themselves in their work; their own particular imprint. Once the clay is formed manipulated as desired, the sculptor is able to leave the work and admire it at a distance. When God creates, it is different. God never leaves his creation. When God designs someone or something, he remains intimately a part of what he creates and leaves himself there. It is precisely his presence within whom or what has been made that allows life to be sustained. It is no wonder then, that Jesus was so adamant about keeping these relationships in proper order. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
This is why when God sees anyone or thing he has created, especially the poor, God sees himself. When we see God’s creation, we see God. Giving due service to God, others and creation then, is not an option. Pope Francis continues in his encyclical by saying that “according to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin.” When we distort these things and put other things in place of God, we run into trouble.
Many of us feel so helpless in the face of poverty. Where do we really begin? It is common this time of year to be more attentive to the needs of the poor. We collect food, have coat drives, gather money for worthy organizations, and do all we can to lighten loads and lift the burdens others carry. Yet we know this is not nearly enough.
The sad truth is we have allowed ourselves to be carried down a dangerous road. The level of unhappiness, unsettledness, anger, apathy, disconnection, fear, and general angst many people feel is symptomatic that something is blatantly wrong. Suicide rates, across the board, are on the rise, and this is not due purely to individual circumstances. Something outside of us is at play.
Poverty is not simply a material condition. People are also spiritually poor. If you take a moment and look at humanity, there is so much emptiness and helplessness. You can see it on people’s faces as they lack true joy. People are clearly missing something. If we listen carefully to Jesus today and to Pope Francis it undoubtedly has to do with these relationships: God, others and creation. Could it be that we are witnessing right before our eyes the evolution of what T.S. Eliot describes in his poem Hollow Men?
Jesus did not give us the Gospel as an alternate option for living. It is THE only option for living if we are to live as God designed. We are meant to live in this world in peace, tending to the needs of our brothers and sisters, serving God and experiencing joy. This is the Kingdom of God over which Christ is King. It is the kingdom WE created that is currently causing so much distress and further leading to the plight of the least among us.
At the end of the day, what kingdom do we serve and who is our king? It seems to me that if our answer is the Kingdom of God with Christ our King, then we have to do all in our power to work toward some significant systemic changes that will insure greater justice. The way we currently conduct the business of our lives, from the economy through technology, while familiar and convenient, will not bring us where we need to be.
Rev. Mark Suslenko
All powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue
the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor of the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.
— Pope Francis