Readings: Ezekiel 34: 11-12.15:17. Psalm 22:1-3.5-6. 1 Corinthians 15: 20-26.28. Matthew 25:31-46
This Sunday’s gospel passage concludes Jesus’ discourse in Matthew with the picture of the final judgement. The analogy of goats and sheep strives to highlight the difference between the two. Goats are likened to the bad and sheep to the good, to those who have heard the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28). We know however that in real life the distinction is not that simple and precisely because of that, we should be all aware of our total dependence on God’s mercy.
We learn more about Jesus himself. He calls righteous those who have recognised him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned. These he calls the “least of his brothers”. In this picture Jesus no longer speaks as a humble teacher from Galilee, but as the Son of Man who judges and whom has all authority on earth and in heaven. He speaks as king, the title given to him by the Magi at his birth and on the cross by his enemies. Like the Shepherd in Ezekiel, He separates the sheep from the goats. According to Ezekiel, the time would come that God himself would be shepherd and king. This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who calls God his Father and who is addressed as “Lord”, the title which reflects his dignity as the Exalted One. We learn here for the first time that his identity as Emmanuel, “God with us” is exercised in his presence in the “least of the brethren”.
The picture of the final judgement reveals the heart of Christ, who identifies himself with the weak and lowly, the suffering and with sinners. It is consistent with the Sermon on the Mount calling his disciples to go beyond the humane demands of the Law. To go further in showing mercy, after the example of the Good Samaritan and the Merciful Father in Luke’s Gospel.
Here, in Matthew’s Gospel, he interprets the great commandment (to love God and to love neighbour as self) in terms of his vision of the end.
In 1 Corinthians Paul refers to Christ as King. Because of his Resurrection, He is superior to all powers in the universe and will overcome every enemy, even death. Then He hands over the Kingdom to the Father and God will be “all in all”.
The reign of Christ becomes visible when his disciples, you and I, practise the works of mercy which are the hallmarks of Christ’s reign and a statement of God’s priorities.
These gospel imperatives present us with a practical and clear way to evaluate our own discipleship. Do we see Christ in the “least” of society and do we welcome their presence among us as an invitation to greater love and mercy, becoming more fully human as we grow to be Christ-like? Viewed in this way, the marginalised, poor and vulnerable among us become a gift, a blessing, allowing us to serve God through neighbour in that mysterious union between Christ and the “least”. We should also remember that in one way or another we all are part of “the least” and in need of other’s love and mercy.