On the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46
Christ the King
This is a very famous Gospel passage and one that many people can quote. But if you were to ask them who spoke these words they could be forgiven for thinking that it was someone other than Jesus because He refers to himself in the third person at the beginning of this speech. But it is Jesus who is speaking and He is very clearly telling us what He will do when He returns in his glory as Christ the King at the end of time to judge the world and restore everything to God. So we should be paying very close attention!
Of course, for most of us, this event may not happen in our lifetime but the end of the world for us comes most abruptly when we die. Just like the second coming of Jesus, no one except God knows the day or the hour that we will depart from this life but when we do, that will be our day of judgement before God.
Unfortunately many people can have an image of God as a harsh judge scrupulously keeping an account of all the sins we commit and waiting eagerly for the time of judgement to hold us to account. But this is a gross misrepresentation of who God really is. God’s true essence is love and mercy. If we ever doubt this, all we have to do is look at a crucifix to be reminded of the length He went to prove his love for us and save us from our sins. He has given us the gift of his Church and the sacraments, in particular the wonderful gift of the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, to help us to get up when we fall and to grow in his love so that we may arrive at our true homeland in Heaven with him. But God is also just and true justice requires judgement and atonement for wrongs that have not been atoned for in this life.
What will we be judged on?
I think St. John of the Cross put it best when he said: “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone”
Christ has said as much in this Gospel. Love of God should lead to love of neighbour for how can we say we love God whom we cannot see, if we do not love our neighbour whom we can see. In this Gospel, Christ gives us a very clear charter for how we should love and thereby avoid being judged harshly, or at all. He lists some of what the Church calls the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and burying the dead. It is through these loving and compassionate acts that we build a true civilisation of love, one built on Gospel values. Christ clearly reminds us that He counts as done, or not done, to him what we do or neglect to do for those who need our love and care. Christ is a King who cares deeply about his subjects and He sees in each of us another of himself, for we are created in his image and likeness. Jesus also told us another way to avoid judgement: “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37). Judgement is God’s right, not ours. Christ asks us to imitate his example and to love and forgive.
This Gospel also reminds us that it is in this very short life that we work out our eternal salvation. Everyday presents us with new opportunities to grow in love, in our families, our places of work, and amongst the strangers that we meet every day who need not remain strangers if we are open to the prompting of God and disposed to allowing him to use us to spread his love in this world where so many people do not know him. Christ is asking us to be his hands and feet and to express our love for him by loving and helping those that He puts in our path. On our own strength we may not be able to do much, but if we sincerely try to walk with God each day, his grace will be enough to help us to help others.
Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of 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, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, 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, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `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?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
– Matthew 25:31-46