CHRIST THE KING, Year A
(Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46)
In our Gospel parable today notice that those sheep who will be called to the right hand of Jesus when He comes in glory, are presented as having shown love of neighbour, but without having directly recognized or responded to the Son of Man in their neighbour:
Then the righteous will answer Him and 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?’
Jesus’ words picture a public judgement where the crime must be clear to all. Now, love of God -- in the intimacy of its transcendent beauty -- cannot be directly seen. Nevertheless, its burgeoning can be seen, as Jesus’ words will show, in love of neighbour; and the absence of such love is therefore, in accord with St. John’s blunt teaching, unacceptable:
If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God Whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother. (1 Jn. 4:20s.)
And so the Last Judgment can only be publicly pictured and appreciated with regard to works of fraternal charity done or omitted.
However, when looked at in the context of the whole of St. Matthew’s presentation of the Good News of Jesus, works of fraternal charity are valid and valuable only in so far as they are signs and expressions of divine charity, or, again as St. John might put it, budding branches of the True Vine tended by the heavenly Father.
A lawyer, asked Jesus a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Mt. 22:35-40)
Likewise, St. Matthew elsewhere quotes Jesus showing love of neighbour to be necessary indeed, but as a preparation for and foreshadowing of love of God when he tells how a rich young man, after having long kept the commandments and shown love toward his neighbour, came to Jesus (19:16-21) because he still felt himself to be far from perfect:
He said to (Jesus), "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you ask Me about the good? There is only One Who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He asked Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honour your father and your mother; and, you shall love your neighbour as yourself." The young man said to Him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me."
Jesus wanted to lead that promising young man on to the fullness of charity in love of God, and giving his earthly possessions to the poor would be a significant step towards that end. And what an inducement that young man was being offered to free himself from the chains of earthly wealth: the opportunity to learn from close proximity with Jesus -- the very Son made flesh -- how to truly love His Father in heaven!!
“Come, follow Me” Jesus had said to him; only three short words but of surpassing significance. “Come and learn from Me overflowing love of God; come, learn to love My Father and your Father so much as to be able to embrace the Cross with Me for His glory and the salvation of mankind”. And He speaks those same words to us this very day, for only when freed from the ultimate slavery of sin and ignorance by the power of His Spirit, can we Catholics and Christians make use of the Spirit’s gifts of grace in Mother Church, and walking thereby with Jesus, begin to conduct our individual lives to the service of God’s glory and the better-ordering of society and the world around us.
Only as ordinary, everyday, Christian men and women become ever more healthy and strong as Christ is formed in them by the power of the Holy Spirit, will He be able -- through us -- to gradually correct and efface the evils which afflict our world, until such time as:
Having put all enemies under His feet,
He is finally able to fully manifest Himself as King:
When He delivers the Kingdom to God the Father.
Towards that end every disciple of Jesus is called and able to contribute, having been allotted a personal role to play and a necessary function to fulfil therein; and in all such endeavours, each and every one of us is personally responsible to Jesus because each and every one of us is not only personally important to Him, but so very much loved by Him, and ultimately to be judged by Him.
To the sheep on His right hand -- in our Gospel reading -- questioning when they had done good to Him Personally, Jesus says:
Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of Mine, you did for Me.
To the goats on His left hand, however, similarly questioning when they had failed to minister to His Personal needs, He says in answer:
Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for Me.
The sheep – righteous, because of their love for and commitment to Jesus – acted according to their Christian conscience with regard to one of His brothers, even though the least.
The goats -- having no love for Jesus and no conscience -- acted from merely personal motives and therefore did no true good to even ‘one of these least ones’: ‘these’ being unspecified and therefore including both those on Jesus’ right hand -- His brothers, and unrecognized as such by the goats – and even those on His left hand (all likewise, goatishly self-sufficing and self-seeking, and consequently incapable of recognizing and responding to ‘conscience’). Put quite simply, they did true good to no one at all, for as St. Matthew quotes Jesus saying earlier (19:17), there is only One Who is good.
Those on the right hand, the sheep, did some good arising from conscience, and in that respect, some divine good; even though so slight and apparently insignificant as to be considered as done to just one of the least of Jesus’ brethren; the goats on the left hand, did no true, divine, good at all, not even the slightest; with the result that these will go off to eternal punishment while the righteous go to eternal life.
The result is quite surprising in the sense that it is perfectly authentic Catholic and Christian teaching, although Matthew’s manner of presentation has led many to assert that, according to his gospel, love of neighbour, rather than love of God, will turn out to be the ultimate criterion for entry into heaven. And yet, what does Matthew actually, say? That the only true good, the one decisive good work, was that done by sheep for conscience’ love of Jesus, while the goats on the left hand did no true good to anyone, ultimately, because they themselves had no love for Jesus, and their motives were self-inspired, self- chosen, and self-serving.
Why did Matthew teach the same as all the other Evangelists and biblical authors in such a particular way? Perhaps because he -- being, as is commonly thought, at the head of and/or writing for a community of Jewish Christians and living in close proximity with Jews still adhering to Moses’ teaching and the synagogue worship -- needed to emphasise Jesus’ teaching on love of neighbour for such a group where love of God was accepted as first and unchallenged as such, but where legal technicalities and traditional allegiances might become ‘sparky’ at times and could, all too easily, lead his readers and hearers to forget Jesus’ inseparable association of love of neighbour with the supreme law of love of God. It was, possibly, a risk the Evangelist took knowingly for a matter of supreme importance, because love of God could not be or ever become truly Christian if it were not able to call forth accompanying love of neighbour.
For Mother Church’s celebration of this great feast of Christ the King, there is an additional beauty in our Gospel reading this day, because in it alone, and with great condescension and generosity, Jesus shows Himself as King in the manifestation of the power He first exerted for us, and in the majesty of His glory to be shared with us. Thus He is, in today’s unique liturgy, to be seen and most gratefully embraced by us as Christ our King:
In Christ shall all be brought to life: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end when He hands over the kingdom to His God and Father.
Come, you who are blessed by My Father. Inherit (with Me) the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.