A reminder for preachers: ‘Words can hurt; words can also heal’
The Scripture readings for the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, invite us to interpret the Scriptures through a lens that is perhaps less common for this celebration. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J, tries to imagine ways in which the readings for the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, “can be perceived less as a hierarchical, patriarchal or monarchical depiction of who God is in Christ through the Spirit, and more about how God relates to us; in humility, in care, in tenderness.”
Father Orobator, a Jesuit of the North-West Africa Province, is an internationally acclaimed theologian and a convert to Catholicism from traditional African religion. This summer, he began his tenure as dean at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University. Before relocating to California, he served as the president of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, led the African Synodality Initiative, and played a leading role in drafting the synthesis report from the African continent ahead of the inaugural session of the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican where, this October, he served as a full voting member of the synod.
“I believe that in a synodal church, as preachers, we are called to be people who reconcile,” says Orobator. “By that I mean, we are called to break open the Word of God in a way that brings healing, that draws people together, that makes people feel and experience themselves as a part of a community that cares for them, not a community that judges them or excludes them for whatever vulnerabilities they may have to struggle with, but a community that really, truly, welcomes everyone. Words can hurt; words can also heal.”
On this week’s “Preach,” Orobator shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., how thinking of the Gospels as stories can subvert hierarchical, monarchical, and even patriarchal readings of the Scriptures.
The image of Jesus as the good shepherd presented in Matthew’s Gospel coupled with the images of pasturing offered by the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading for the feast of Christ the King invite Orobator “to read this Scripture text differently—from the perspective of pasturing; which is about nurturing, which is about care, which is about tenderness, not about power, not about authority, not about, asserting and imposing obligations on people.”
Preachers are called to break open the Word of God in a way that brings healing.
Scripture Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A
First Reading: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
Second Reading: 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28
Gospel: Mt 25:31-46
You can find the full text of the readings here.
Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A, by Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J.
Today’s first reading and the Gospel seem to suggest that God favors sheep over goats. I wonder why?
In Matthew’s imagination, the kingship of Jesus resembles that of a ruler and judge seated on a glorious throne and pronouncing judgment over sheep and goats. That is to say, people on the right and people on the left of the king. The Gospel leads us to think that good people occupy an assigned place on the right side and bad people belong to the left side of this ruthless judge. This is a harsh, unappealing way to describe the kingship of Jesus.
Could we imagine Matthew’s scenario of the Last Judgment differently? Could we imagine a purpose for this Gospel that is different from what our popular imagination leads us to believe?
Could we imagine Matthew’s scenario of the Last Judgment differently?
As I see it, the point of today’s readings is not merely to set up a strict rule or standard of behavior that separates sheep from goats and people on the right from those on the left. In our ordinary living, we are never just sheep or just goats—we are both. Who among us could ever measure up perfectly, consistently, to Jesus’ mandate to feed the hungry, visit the sick, spend time with incarcerated people, close the naked, or welcome the stranger? Every time—and all the time—we are sheep and we are goats, some of the time—if not all the time.
Sometimes we succeed in living out our Christian calling to charity and love towards others; other times we don’t. And that’s not reason to cast us into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. When Scripture presents Jesus as our king, Scripture doesn’t just mimic or mirror what we are familiar with; that is rulers who lord it over others.
The readings of Christ the King invite us to an experience of God who is tender towards us, merciful in our regard and shepherds us with compassion.
Our readings today are not about judgment, condemnation, or destruction. On the contrary, these readings invite us to an experience of God who is tender towards us; who is merciful in our regard; who shepherds us with compassion. The kingship of Christ is both a revelation of God’s tenderness, mercy and compassion and an inspiration to imitate these qualities of God in our relationships.
Revelation and inspiration, never to condemn us, but always inviting us to discover new ways in which we can be on the side of God; always inviting us to incarnate new ways in which we can lead others to the right side of God; always inviting us to discern new ways in which we can become sight for the lost, a path for the strayed, healing for the wounded, rest for the weary, and pasture for the famished. You see, God does not favor sheep over goats. Jesus is the good shepherd, our good shepherd.