Now that the travel restrictions have gone, I suspect that the great ring of winery estates beyond the outer edges of Melbourne are enjoying a bit of a resurgence in business. Many of these estates were once collections of farms and studs but have since become well-known producers of our great Victorian wines. We go to visit them for their produce, but also as locations of beauty, leisure and wellbeing. There is something about these estates which can evoke a sense of belonging, of being a part of a great tradition and way of life.
In history, the word ‘estate’ did not so much refer to a place or location, but to an identifiable political or social grouping. There was an ‘estate’ of the ruling classes, and the ‘estate’ of the commoners. It was a word that pointed to the ways in which a society was ordered and governed. Today, if we were to speak of the ‘estates’ of contemporary democratic societies like ours, we might refer to the legislative, administrative and judicial estates. The structures around which our society is organised.
All of this is to say that human society is an ordered reality, that needs various forms in which to function. But society also needs the other sense of estate – the one that evokes belonging – so that we can move from mere functioning to a sense of flourishing.
The kingdom or reign of God is precisely such an ‘estate’ both of functioning and flourishing, in which we may give full expression – individually and collectively – to the humanity we have been endowed with in the image of God. God’s kingdom has order to it: the law of God, by which our lives might be shaped; the pastoral governing of God, by which we personally apply that law; and the great judgement of God, by which we are accounted for in mercy. The commandments of God are the laws of the Kingdom we belong to; the beatitudes of God are their application in our lives; and today’s parable from God reveals how we are judged in relation to them. There is an order for us to embrace in this Kingdom of God; we have here a way of functioning as God invites us to.
But where is our flourishing? It is to the king of this Kingdom we are invited to look, Jesus Christ, our universal king. To flourish, to find our way of living well, we need to belong not to a thing or a concept or a way of organising our lives. To flourish is to belong in relationships that give life. The parable of the judgement of the king on the last day is a parable that points to those life-giving relationships of human goodness, rather than the cold pursuit of a place in the order of things. Jesus is the shepherd-king who guides and directs and points us to the path to life.
As the Prophet Ezekiel prophesied about Jesus: “I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view.” Jesus is the one who comes to our centre as we are standing at the edge. He keeps us in view. But how does he do this, our King? Ezekiel goes on: “I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong.” Our King is the one who will even destroy the ‘deaths’ that linger in our fallen humanity.
God’s estate offers us the order we desire in our lives, if we wish to belong to it. But it is the King of this estate, Jesus Christ, who finds for us the place in which we might each flourish. As the Lord invites us into the centre of his life, may we be judged according to the way in which we help those on the edge to find the centre.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021