[Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46]
As I drive from my place of residence in Edmonton to our diocesan offices, there is a traffic circle I have to navigate. Sometimes these are called roundabouts. Not for the faint of heart. Traffic enters the circle in double lanes from multiple directions, with every driver trying to catch the eye of the others to guess intentions and directions. Critical to a successful navigation is common agreement as to who has the right of way. When everyone understands that and accepts it, the traffic flows properly without incident. In contrast, if everyone were to choose in the moment to claim the right of way for themselves, there would be accidents and traffic would grind to a halt.
In this mass we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The message of the scriptural texts is that the right of way always belongs to him. Our celebration captures the Christian faith that, following his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus has been made by his Father Lord of all things until the end of time. As Saint Paul puts it, Jesus “must reign”, which means that we must surrender to his rule in our lives. Borrowing from Ezekiel and from the Psalmist, Jesus is the promised divine Shepherd placed over us, the sheep, to teach and guide us along the right path. Or, to put it differently, Jesus always has the “right of way” because he alone teaches us the right way; more, he is the right way. We must yield every aspect of our lives to him and his commands, and refrain from claiming the right of way by deciding for ourselves the way we shall live and the direction our lives will take. Only in this way will the “traffic flow of life” move as it should.
In this light, consider what is happening in the world right now. Serious “accidents” and massive “traffic snarls” abound. We need think only of the devastating wars in the Middle East, Ukraine, and elsewhere; global political instability; the angry polarization in our societies and even in families; the tragic substance abuse among the young; the evil trafficking of desperate refugees; or the legalization of euthanasia and the alarming spread of access to it. The list goes on. Analyses as to what is behind all of this are not in short supply, as the situations are discussed from a variety of perspectives. Our mass today highlights with clarity the one real cause behind it all: failure to yield the right of way to Jesus Christ, the refusal to surrender to his sovereignty of love.
It is clear that the world needs to see what yielding the right of way to Christ looks like. I must say that, because of what I have witnessed this weekend, this parish can serve as such a model. Think of what you have been through in recent years. Your church was so damaged that it needed to be replaced. Just as you began to fundraise, COVID hit. Yet, undaunted you continued to give of yourselves for your church, and now have this beautiful structure. That is yielding the right of way to Christ. Through a variety of parish ministries, you maintain the structure, celebrate beautiful liturgy, and reach out towards those in need. Think also of your pastoral care of the homebound, your desire to work with the town to address homelessness, your reverse collections in support of the foodbank and needy children, and your decision to contribute a portion of the funds raised for the church to other charitable needs, even though you could have used every dollar collected. That all represents yielding the right of way to our Lord. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” You are a model of what surrender to the reign of Christ looks like, and I am edified by your example.
There is always more we can do, certainly, since conversion to Christ is a life-long undertaking. As we come to the altar today, let us bring to him any area of our lives where we have yet to yield, where we are still holding back on our Christian commitment. Keep in mind that what the Lord Jesus says about how we are to live and love as his disciples occurs within his teaching about the Last Judgement. Jesus is our Shepherd and King, yes; he will also be our Judge at the end of our lives. He makes clear that we shall each be held to account with respect to whether or not we have yielded to his rule of love, and will have to accept consequences that are eternal.
Of course, we know Jesus does not want us to be condemned. Rather, he wants us to be with him forever. After all, as Ezekiel foretold, he came as our Shepherd to seek us out and save us. For this reason, he gives us all the grace we need to yield the right of way to him. That grace reaches us in the sacraments, above all here in the Eucharist, where he gives us his very self. So, let us bring to the altar any resistance to him or his teaching that occupies our hearts, and ask him to free us by his mercy to surrender entirely to him. Jesus must reign; he must be given the right of way. It is only by surrender to Christ our King that individuals, families and nations will be able to travel together peacefully and without accident along the right way that leads to life eternal.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Our Lady of Peace Parish, Innisfail, Alberta
November 26th, 2023