Faith, Fellowship and Fun

Matthew 25:31-46
Jesus said to his disciples: Matt. 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The gospel of the Lord

There are two interpretations of this parable. The traditional interpretation, which probably cannot be set aside, is that anyone who is kind to someone in need will be judged favourably. This is the “universalist” interpretation. There is another, usually called the “particularist” interpretation. According to this view, what Matthew has in mind is the narrow question of what will happen to good non-believers who have come to the help of believers in distress. This perhaps surprising reading depends on a number of observations about Matthew’s vocabulary and theology. This second interpretation may reflect more accurately conditions in the first century. For example, no food was provided for people in prison as they awaited trial. Christians were imprisoned, as we know (1Cor 4:11-13; 2Cor 6:4-5; 11:25-27; 3Jn 5-7), they would have depended upon charitable non-believers to help them. The teaching of the parable, therefore, would seem to be this: Christians, in their vulnerability, enable non- believers to encounter Christ, because “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” There is a deep message for disciples today and the church: salvation is made available not by power or benevolence but by weakness and vulnerability.

The gospel writers leave no room for doubt. Jesus is entirely devoted to the people who need help. He cannot pass them by. No one’s suffering is foreign to him. He identifies with the smallest and most helpless, and does whatever he can for them. Compassion is the most important thing for him. That is the only way to be like God: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate”
We should not be surprised that when he speaks of the final Judgement, Jesus presents compassion as the ultimate and decisive criterion by which our lives and our identification with him will be judged. Why should it surprise us that he shows his identification with all the poor and unfortunate in history?
What will decide our final destiny is not the religion we belong to or the faith we confess during our life. The important thing is whether we live with compassion, helping those who suffer and need our help. What we do for those who are hungry, defenceless immigrants, people crippled with sickness, and prisoners forgotten by everyone, we are doing to God incarnate in Jesus. The religion that pleases God most is help for people who suffer.
The important thing in life is not what we say or think, what we believe or write. Beautiful feelings and sterile protestations will get us nowhere. The important thing is helping those who need us.
Today as always we are asked to give a cup of water to those who thirst, but we are also asked to transform our society into one that serves the poor and dispossessed.
Christians cannot claim neutrality in the face of injustice in our society, by saying that we don’t want “to get involved in politics”. In one way or another, through our actions or our inaction, every individual and institution is “involved in politics”.

JOSÉ A PAGOLA - The Way Opened up by Jesus
The last act of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew’s gospel is to tell a parable in which the last judgement is described. We should remember this is a story and not a prediction but as with all the parables it is aimed at making us stop and think. Two sets of people are surprised in this story and both express their surprise with the same question: “But when Lord did we see you in need?” On group, the righteous, are amazed to find that they have been serving the Lord when they helped the poor and the needy. Equally, the others are horrified to discover that every time they ignored the poor and needy they were ignoring their Lord. If we have been paying close attention to Matthew’s gospel this year, this parable will not come as a surprise because time and again Jesus in his proclamation of the kingdom has appealed for people to be authentic in the living of their faith, in other words to make their deeds match their words. We must actively do the will of the Father and be loving as he is loving.

SEAN GOAN - Let the Reader Understand
1. This judgement scene contains surprises for us. One surprise is that nobody is condemned for doing wrong, but for their failure to do good. Being a disciple of Jesus is a positive choice about how we live and relate to others. Perhaps sin-avoidance has sometimes dominated your view of what was being asked of you. What difference has it made for you when you viewed your Christian life as a daily opportunity to make a positive difference to others?
2. Another way of saying this is that the aim of Christian living is not me-centred (about my personal sanctification) but other-centred (about responding to the needs of others). What happens to you when you get caught up in yourself? Is life not better, e.g. in this time of pandemic, when you can look beyond yourself to others?
3. Another surprise is to hear Jesus tell us that when we do something for another, he considers it done to himself. When has seeing Christ in others helped you in your dealings with them?
4. The story is about the judgement of the whole of humanity. It presents an ideal of society in which human relationships at all levels are governed by the law of love. In your experience what difference has it made to a group to which you belonged when there was a definite sensitivity to the needs of all members?

Meditating on this passage in the light of the feast requires two clarifications. Modern Western culture does not have kings - or queens. The few left do not exercise any real power; they play ceremonial roles and we associate them with pomp and pageantry. In the biblical culture, however, kings are leaders of their communities. They are "judges" in the sense that they set moral standards for the community. Rightly then, today's gospel reading celebrates Christ's kingship as an act of "judgment". The second clarification  is that Jesus is a special kind of king - his way of "judging" is very different from what prevails in the world. This is what the feast celebrates - the "good news for the poor" of Christ's (God's) standards of judgement. It is also a call to repentance addressed to us as individuals and as a Church, since our "judgments" (in word or action) are often far removed from those of Jesus.
The  story is of a future, final judgment - like the parable of two weeks ago. This is not the whole picture, however. Today's passage invites us to remember the temporary and fleeting "judgement moments" we have experienced, moments that provoked a re-evaluation of how we were living:        - we became seriously ill        - our marriage broke up        - we fell into a fault we thought we would never succumb to
- our country experienced  national disaster (e.g. pandemic), floods, famine, civil war.
As always in the bible, the judgement causes two reactions and we have experienced them both at different times:        - wonderful relief at knowing we were right.
       - terrible sadness when we realise that we have missed the boat - like the foolish bridesmaids of two weeks ago. We are consumed by remorse. We have an opportunity for conversion.

MICHEL DE VERTEUIL - Lectio Divina on the Sunday Gospels

There is a beautiful practice in India of using the phrase ‘Namaste’ when you greet someone, which literally mens, the Divine in me greets the Divine in you. Usually this greeting is accompanied by a deep bow towards the other person. Words are one thing, but can we live this? At the heart of the mystery of today’s gospel is the radical call be be Christ to others and to see Christ in others.
Acts of love, mercy and compassion towards the ‘least’ in the community are a summary of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s Gospel, keys to the kingdom of heaven.
We meet Christ in the simple gestures: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner. We also meet Christ in ourselves: for what do you hunger and thirst? What needs welcoming in you?
Our journey through Matthew ends here with an invitation to see Christ in every person we meet and through acts of compassion and mercy birthing transformative grace into the world. May we live the gospel with our lives.

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