First Reading: Ezk 34:11-12. 15-17; Psalm: 23. R. v. 1; Second Reading: 1Cor 15:20-26. 28; Gospel: Mt 25:31-46
THE KING OF THE POOR AND VULNERABLE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Today is the thirty fourth Sunday and the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, cycle A. Next Sunday, we shall be celebrating the First Sunday of Advent which marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, cycle B. Every last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, the Church marks the Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe. This solemnity which started as a feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI on December 11, 1925 to enthrone and accentuate the sovereignty of Christ in the wake of increasing atheism, agnosticism and secularisation in the society. And being that till date, this attempt to relegate the sovereignty of Christ still abounds; it becomes even more required to mark this celebration.
Our gospel reading of today concludes Matthew’s collection of the teachings of Jesus concerning the End. Two Sundays ago and last Sunday, we read from the parables of the Ten Maidens and of the Talents that forewarns us of the need to be watchful and to put our talents to use. Today, the Church presents to us Matthew’s narrative of “The Judgment of the Nations” to conclude our gospel reading for the year. This eschatological narrative is not a parable but a revelation of God’s Final Judgment. However, this gospel narrative should not be taken literally for it is only an allegorical depiction of the Day of Judgment.
For instance, the description of ‘the Son of man coming in his glory with all the angels’ is not a visual experience that we shall exactly have on that day; but a biblical image depicting God’s sovereign power and transcendence. Also, the separation of the sheep from the goats, a description drawn from the agricultural life of Palestinian shepherds, does not imply that God will sort us out as a shepherd does; but that the righteous and the evil will not share the same reward on the Day of Judgment. And God’s kingdom is not a place spatial in character; but a relationship between God and his people. It was because this relationship was severed by sin that God sent his Son Jesus Christ to reconcile us back to himself. And at the end of time, the sustenance of our relationship with God shall be dependent upon our compliance to the commands of Christ our King.
One very interesting thing about our gospel reading of today is the revelation of Christ that there would have been a lot of surprises on the Day of Judgment had he not come to reveal these surprises to us. We can see these surprises from the reaction of the righteous and the evil. When the righteous were extolled and rewarded for their charity towards the poor and the vulnerable, they said; ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger, and in prison, and cared for you?’ This means they never knew that Christ lives in the poor and vulnerable. They were just charitable for charity sake. The evil ones on the left hand side who will be punished for their lack of charity towards the needy also claimed not to have seen or known that Christ lives in the poor and vulnerable. They said; ‘“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’” In other words, they were claiming that if they had known that Christ lives in the poor and vulnerable, they would have acted differently.
But the most interesting thing now is that we now know that Christ lives in everyone regardless. Christ has made it clear that ‘whatsoever we do or failed to do to one of the least of his brethren, we did it or failed to do it to him.’ So apparently, there will be no more surprises. If not for Christ, who would have believed that God lives in an unwise extravagant person who suddenly goes poor and hungry? Who would have agreed that Christ lives in a naked mad man who went mad consequent to his own evil decisions and actions? It would have been debatable to claim that Christ lives in a drug addict who is sick and dying. And even now, not many believe that Christ could be found in an unrepentant serial killer imprisoned for his cruel crime.
This portends that they could be more surprises on the Day of Judgment because there are still many who doubt the gospel of Christ. There are people today whom we believe are not deserving of our charity or love for some logical reasons. Like people who are not grateful for our generosity or hospitality. People who get sick from drug addiction and still persist regardless. People who get into trouble after doing us great harm. People who get arrested and imprisoned for swindling us. Or a stranger arrested for a crime or robbery. Could Christ be found in these people? Are these people counted among the least of Christ’s brethren? Yes, they are.
Jesus explicitly said that the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner are one and the same with him. So, every hungry and thirsty person who asks for bread or water is Christ asking to be fed. Every stranger who seeks for shelter is Christ asking to be sheltered. Anyone who is naked is Christ asking to be clothed. Every sick and dying person is Christ asking to be cared for. And every prisoner is Christ behind bars waiting for our visit. There is no obscurity about this. However, if we feared being exposed to danger or harm in personally carrying out these works of charity; we could alternatively do them through donations to orphanage homes, hospitals and prisons, and by standing up against xenophobic tendencies. But choosing not to do these works of charity at all will be so unwise for they are the required criteria to gain eternal reward.
It is very surprising that of all these criteria mentioned by Jesus, none is religious by nature. It is not how much we go to Church, how much we pray, or how much offering or tithe we give that will guarantee our salvation but how much we have loved. These religious practices are good of course. But if we do not back them up with works of charity, they become empty. Jesus did not even mention any of the Ten Commandments but only asks that we be charitable to those truly in need. This implies that even non believers could be saved on the Day of Judgment if they are rich in works of charity.
In our first reading of today from the prophet Isaiah, God promised to seek out his lost sheep scattered abroad and to bring them back. Christ is the fulfilment of this promise. Christ is our shepherd who has revealed to us the mysteries of the kingdom to gather us back to God our Father. The climax of his salvific mission was his destruction of death forever by which he reconciled us back to God. He now reigns as king and will judge all nations accordingly at the end of time. If we wish to sustain this divine relationship redeemed by Christ, then we must listen to his command today: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked, and care for the sick and the prisoner.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, King of the universe, we thank you for showing us the way to eternal life. Help us to follow this way of salvation that we may inherit the kingdom prepared for us. Amen.