November 21, 2023 at 8:57 a.m.
Matthew’s Gospel and the Final Judgment
The reign or kingship of Jesus Christ is something dynamic that is at the very heart of our faith and who we are and what we do.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
This weekend, our Liturgical Year comes to an end once again, as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, or, to give the feast its full title, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” Our readings for this Sunday bring out an important point about how we understand this “kingship” of our Lord. In speaking of our Lord as King, or indeed of the Kingdom of God, we think not so much of a place, but rather of something all-encompassing and reaching beyond simple time or space. It might be more helpful than to speak of the reign or kingship of Jesus Christ: something dynamic that is at the very heart of our faith and who we are and what we do.
“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”
— Ezekiel 34:11
Each year, we are given different readings to highlight various features and characteristics of this reign or kingship of our Lord. This year, we have the dramatic final judgment from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46). The Son of Man, Christ the King, comes in glory and then, seated on his throne, he judges (separates) those who may, or may not be, true citizens of his kingdom. Clearly, the criterion for judgment is whether or not a person has shown active charity, mercy, care and love, especially toward those in need.
This makes it very clear that acts of charity are essential: the key hallmark of a true citizen of God’s Kingdom. They are not an option. As he so often does, St. John Chrysostom puts things bluntly: “it is impossible, though we perform ten thousand other good deeds, to enter the portals of the Kingdom without almsgiving.” There are many reasons for this, but our Lord himself gives us a fundamental reason in his teaching about the Final Judgment in our Gospel. Notice the surprise of both those who did and those who did not help those in need: “Lord, when did we see you …?” The difference is that the virtuous, those who came to the aid of those in need, acted upon that need and did so almost instinctively. In doing so, they came to the aid of both a brother or sister in Christ and therefore to Jesus himself: “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
In many ways, Jesus’ words are very much about mercy. “Mercy is the showpiece of the soul” St. Augustine reminds us, because it is both a spiritual attitude or disposition and it is something practical and involves action. So, how can we be merciful; that is, how can we give alms and be active in charity? In our Christian tradition, there are two main ways that we can do this: what is called the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy. In fact, they are based on the Final Judgment in Mathew’s Gospel that we hear at Mass on Sunday! The corporal works of mercy are: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming captives (think of human trafficking for example) and burying the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, admonishing the sinner, gladly forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently and praying for the living and the dead. A pretty comprehensive (and challenging) list!
Whilst in the hospital in 1983, St. Teresa of Kolkata wrote the following beautiful and challenging meditation on our Sunday Gospel:
Jesus is the Hungry – to be fed.
Jesus is the Thirsty – to be satiated.
Jesus is the Naked – to be clothed.
Jesus is the Homeless – to be taken in.
Jesus is the Sick – to be healed.
Jesus is the Lonely – to be loved.
Jesus is the Unwanted – to be wanted.
Jesus is the Leper – to wash his wounds.
Jesus is the Beggar – to give him a smile.
Jesus is the Drunkard – to listen to him.
Jesus is the Mental – to protect him.
Jesus is the Little One – to embrace him.
Jesus is the Blind – to lead him.
Jesus is the Dumb – to speak for him.
Jesus is the Crippled – to walk with him.
Jesus is the Drug Addict – to befriend him.
Jesus is the Prostitute – to remove from danger and befriend her.
Jesus is the Prisoner – to be visited.
Jesus is the Old – to be served.
Our feast day reminds us then about the true nature of our citizenship, or belonging, to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is truly universal; composed of so many people from every place, culture and time. Entrance into the Kingdom involves an invitation from the Lord, as well as a journey and choice by us: one of faith, hope and love. Like any country or kingdom, Jesus’ Kingdom or reign has its own customs, laws, characteristics, history and culture. What are these? Above all, they must be about a living and real love and a merciful heart.