We have been on a pilgrimage with the Gospel of Matthew this year & arrive at this scene marking the conclusion of the public ministry of Jesus. We are presented with Jesus the king announcing a final blessing upon all of those who have been a blessing for others throughout their life. They receive the inheritance of the kingdom.
The scene was once called the “Last Judgement” but in it we discover that the judgement has already been made. All of the characters in this story – as also in real life are judged by how they & we have responded, or failed to respond, to those in need with mercy & hospitality. The scene is not the final judgement, but the sentencing. What we do NOW – today – is the judgement that will one day he passed upon us at the NOT YET time of His final return. In a gloomy night it is not easy to discern the difference between the grey-brown hues of middle-eastern sheep & goats of the time, just as it was not easy to discern the wheat from the weeds (Matt 13:24-30) or the edible from inedible fish in the Dragnet (Matt 13:47-50) or as we saw more recently, the wise from the foolish maidens (Matt 25:1-8).
Jesus came to announce the breaking in of the kingdom of God. This saving mission was first for the lost sheep of the kingdom of Israel, but it soon began to be extended to the Gentiles. Now it is all humanity that is gathered before the king. And Matthew’s gospel will conclude with the great commission to “go, and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matt 28:18-20)
Just as Jesus has responded to the needs of all the people he has met with mercy, love and hospitality – so also the blessings of the kingdom are prepared for all those who have responded to the needs of others in like manner. These blessings were prepared since before ‘the foundation of the world.’ Jesus tells us what their needs are: hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, imprisonment. These needs represent all pain and poverty. The blessed ones on the right are surprised – yet Jesus is always there in the poor and the vulnerable, because Jesus is Emmanuel, God is with us. Matthew begins his gospel by giving us this special name for Jesus, and concludes it by telling us that Jesus will be with us always. Jesus is present in all – especially in the least of my brothers & sisters.
Those who are found on the left of the king make the claim that they never saw Jesus in any of the human suffering that is described. Their failure to ‘see’ Jesus in the reality of any who suffer brings their own punishment – separation from Jesus into the eternal fire. This fate was not prepared for humans from the ‘foundation of the world’ (as are the blessings) but prepared for ‘the devil and his angels.’ The cursed goats prepared their own punishment for themselves.
As we conclude this bizarre year, it is helpful for us to examine ourselves now in the preparation for the not yet.
- Have I fed the hungry? Have I given of myself financially and by offering myself to the lonely and heartbroken in the food of friendship and care?
- Have I given a drink of affirmation and compassion to those who have become dry and arid through a sense of failure and worthlessness?
- Have I provided a home for those who are still searching for a place of safety and security? Do I recognise my own need for the same?
- Have I ever stripped someone naked by gossip and slander? Is there someone that I need to clothe in warm and compassionate love?
- Is there someone I know who is locked in a prison of doubt and addiction? How can I call someone into the joy of freedom or unlock an old hurt through the gift of forgiveness?
- We have been deeply concerned with those who are sick during this pandemic. But in our continuing isolation, is there someone that I can reach out to to offer friendship?
Vatican II taught that the kingdom of God is already present among us in mystery. We are able each day to make a choice to see Jesus already present and nurture that choice by human dignity, community and freedom. Every time we open ourselves to Jesus in the least of these and respond with the values of the kingdom, we allow the kingdom to break into our world just that little bit more, until the Lord returns and brings the full flowering of the kingdom to birth around us.
Sunday 34, Year A. Solemnity of Christ the King. Ezekiel 34: 11-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Matthew 25:31-46.