HANDEL - MESSIAH - King of Kings
The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 34:11-12; 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26,28; Mt 25:31-46
The final judgement is the scene in the Gospel reading for today. Incidentally, this is not to be taken in too literal a sense. It is the meaning behind the scene which we are to focus on. It would be a worthless piece of speculation to imagine our encounter with God as taking place in any particular way analogous to life on earth. The images of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with hosts of angels are typical biblical images pointing to God’s awesome greatness and transcendence and are not descriptions of some visual experience we might have.
There will be two kinds of people coming for judgement, described respectively as ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’, the good guys and the bad guys. And how are the good and the bad guys to be distinguished from each other? It is quite obvious that both groups are very surprised at the criteria that Jesus presents. Speaking first to the sheep, Jesus says: 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
The sheep are clearly very surprised. This is obviously not what they were expecting to hear. One gets the impression that they hardly remember doing these things although definitely they had done at least some of them. And certainly they do not remember ever doing anything of the kind for Jesus. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?” Were they even more surprised at the answer they got? “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”
Then turning to the goats, whom he calls “accursed”, he condemns them for not doing any of the things he mentioned above and for not recognising Jesus in their brothers and sisters.
There are a number of things to notice here:
- none of the things Jesus mentions are religious in nature
- there is no mention whatever of any commandments being observed or violated
- people are condemned not for doing actions which were morally wrong but for not doing anything at all
- the actions are done (or not done) TO Jesus and not just FOR Jesus. In other words, Jesus is truly present in every person I meet. I am not just nice to this person (whom I may not care about very much) in order to do a “good act” which Jesus will reward and add to my bank account of “good works”. People cannot be used – even for spiritual purposes.
To sum up, Jesus is saying that, if I wish to be counted among the sheep, then I must be an actively loving person, irrespective of the response I get to my love. This is the way God loves me. It is not enough just to fulfil obligations, religious or otherwise. It won’t do to say, “I am a good enough Catholic”. I am expected to keep going out of my way and reach out in love especially to those in need – the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor and naked, the sick and those in prison. It does not matter how they got or why they are in. These people are especially to be loved because they are the most in need of having their lives turned round.
This is the King I am called to serve. And the way he wants to be served is for me to be filled with care and compassion for brothers and sisters everywhere and especially for those who are furthest from him and those who are not experiencing the abundance with which he has filled this world. I serve by loving those who are materially, socially, psychologically, morally and spiritually poor.
The picture of the Judgement in the Gospel is not meant to fill us with fear and trembling. No, it is a challenge not about the future but about today. The surest way to guarantee that I will be numbered among the sheep is for me to become right now a loving, caring, tolerant, accepting person.
Text by F. Doyle
Last Judgement by Stefan Lochner
Photos 1,2,3 by David Perry
Fragm. of Last Judgement by Pietro Cavalini
The last photo by Anna Lewiak