Sunday, November 22, 2020

Between Price & Process

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

My dear friends, do you know the difference between a big price-tag and a new recipe? Have you ever seen something you like in a store, and rushed over to check its price, only to discover that the item is way above your budget? What does it feel like? Or, on the other hand, have you ever received a detailed recipe, giving you all the instructions you need to prepare the food that you love? What is that like? I think it’s not difficult to imagine the contrasting feelings evoked by these experiences. Just as the price-tag may discourage and depress, so too is the recipe able to excite and to energise.

I mention this because, at first glance, our Mass readings may look a lot like no more than a big price-tag. The gospel presents us with an image of the king as a judge, who exacts a hefty price from those wishing to attain their hearts’ desire. To enter into eternal life, one must show mercy to those in need. To the hungry and thirsty, the lonely and naked, the sick and imprisoned… And perhaps there are those who may feel that this is a price far more than they can pay. Particularly those of us who may struggle just to bear the stresses and strains of daily living, and who fail to care enough even for themselves, as they’re too busy worrying about others.

Which is why it’s helpful to consider the other roles played by our heavenly king. In the first reading, before claiming to be a strict judge, God promises to serve his people as a loving and merciful shepherd. One who does exactly the things expected of those in the gospel. As shepherd, God takes painstaking care of his needy and vulnerable sheep. Feeding and healing, protecting and guiding them.

As we ponder this consoling image of the shepherd, perhaps we may be drawn to recall how, in so many concrete ways, we ourselves are shepherded by God. How we ourselves are shown mercy. Most of all through the sacrifice that we celebrate at this Mass. And, when we do this, when we remember all that we have received from the Good Shepherd, even over this past year of global pandemic, perhaps we will better understand and accept another role that the king plays in our readings today.

The second reading tells us that Christ will subject everything to himself and, eventually, to the Father. The role the king plays here is that of conqueror. Except that Christ conquers not with sharpened sword, or smoking gun, but with broken Body, and Blood outpoured. It is by pondering this image, of Christ on the Cross, that we receive the strength to submit our lives to him, and to be transformed by his example.

First, to receive the care of the shepherd. Next, to submit to the power of the conqueror. And, only then, to satisfy the requirements of the judge. Together, don’t these images appear less like a depressing price-tag, and more like an exciting recipe?

Sisters and brothers, as we rejoice in the reign of Christ the King, what will you do to prepare for his just judgment today?

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