Judgment and Justice

The Last Sunday after Pentecost

The last Sunday after Pentecost continues the theme of judgment that began the previous week.

First reading and psalm: Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24; Ps. 100

Alternate: Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24; Ps. 95:1-7a
Eph. 1:15-23 • Matt. 25:31-46

The last Sunday after Pentecost continues the theme of judgment that began the previous week, but the teaching in today’s lessons mitigates the fearful lessons of a week ago. Though judgment and condemnation are still plain, it is clear that the pronouncement is a matter of justice: those who are condemned have chosen the course that brought them to that grievous pass. Those whom the condemned have oppressed also receive justice, but for them it is deliverance, redress from the unjust suffering they have endured.

The lesson from Ezekiel uses the common analogy of sheep for the members of the household of God. Ezekiel, who was God’s prophet during the time of the exile in Babylon and the destruction of the Temple, prophesies a coming time when the guilty will be condemned and the tyrannized will be justified and set right. “I myself will judge between fat sheep and lean sheep,” says the Lord. To the “fat sheep” he says: “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock.” Although God says he “will destroy” the “fat and strong” nearly the entire lesson provides words of comfort and peace, gathering and protection, to the weak. Justice for those who have been scattered and lost means great delight at several levels.

Both psalm selections provided as options focus on the comfort given to the needy sheep, which rejoice at being rescued by the Lord.

The lesson from Matthew is well known: the parable of the sheep and the goats. The parable specifies that the sheep and goats are “all the nations.” This is Judgment Day when all human beings are judged, and go either to heaven or to hell. By this account, how we treat each other, what we have done or failed to do, is the determining factor. It is profoundly significant that Jesus identifies himself completely with human beings. By Jesus’ standards, each human being appears as Jesus himself to every other human being. He does not identify merely with those in need; he describes them as “the least of these.” He associates himself with those who are least in the eyes of others.

Remember that both the sheep and goats were taken by surprise at the judgment. Without knowing it, they were making decisions about their eternal destiny in the commonplace choices of each day.

Look It Up
How does the lesson from Ephesians connect with the teaching in the other lessons?

Think About It
If we are saved by faith, why does the parable in Matthew teach that people are to be judged according to what they have done?


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