Jesus Christ is the Son of Man who will come in glory. Tomorrow we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. The priest will proclaim the gospel according to Matthew, where Christ separates the sheep from the goats.
Separating the sheep from the goats
The setting is dramatic. All the people of the world are assembled, as Christ appears in his glorious magnificence. Surrounded by all the angels, he sits upon a great throne. Looking upon the men and women from all the ages, he separates them one from another. He is like a shepherd, separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep he places on his right, and the goats on his left.
Then the king addresses the sheep
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.
These righteous sheep, however, are confused. They do not recall seeing the Lord in need and tending to him. They say:
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you?
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?
The king reveals himself to them in his glorious beauty. All are one with the Lord. He is present in each person, great and small.
Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.
Then he turns to the goats
Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.
The goats are astounded. Had they ever seen the Lord in need, they certainly would have cared for him. Terrified, they cry out:
Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?
He answers with an awful finality:
Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.
For their treatment of their brothers and sisters, these goats go off to eternal punishment. But the righteous sheep are blessed with eternal life.
Mt 25: 31-46 (NAB).
This scene is the measure for human acts
Saint Pope John Paul II tells us that “[t]his eschatological scene must always be ‘applied’ to [human] history.” Indeed, “it must always be made the ‘measure’ for human acts as an essential outline for an examination of conscience by each and every one”. Redemptor hominis ¶ 16.
When we examine our acts and conscience in light of this scene, what do we find? Does this scene make you uncomfortable? It shakes me to the core.
My salvation depends on how I respond to this lesson
When did I last see a person, homeless or hungry, and turn away because this was not a convenient moment? Too recently. When did I last see someone lonely, isolated, exposed, and not offer friendship? Again, too recently. When did I last seek out the sick or imprisoned, so that I could help them? It has been a long time.
The world is filled with injustice. I have a comfortable house and plenty to eat. Not far from my door, however, are men and women sleeping under tarps, who need to beg in order to feed their children. I have work, and am able to make a good living. But I have only to open my eyes as I go to and from my job and I can see those who want work but cannot find it. I can see those who come to this country for work, and who are exploited with low wages and unsafe working conditions. My skin color and gender automatically give me advantages I did not earn. Others are exposed to violence and abuse because of their skin color or gender.
We are about to enter the Advent of Christ. We will celebrate his first coming, and yearn for his second. But will I be ready for that second coming? As next week’s gospel reading reminds me,
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning,
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!”
Mk: 13: 35-37 (NAB).