Feast of Christ the King
The Big Question
What determines our final destiny as persons?
What do we have to do to experience a fullness of life that is lasting? What do we have to do to reach an inner peace that will never be taken away?
What do we have to do to get to heaven? I am guessing that each of us thinks about these big questions from time to time.
The Surprising Answer
The answer Jesus gives in today’s gospel parable here may be very surprising.
And, by the way, in all four gospels, this is the only description – the only description – of what the Last Judgment will be like. So, I think it is worth our attention.
Jesus says that those of us who are a blessing to others will inherit the kingdom. The kingdom is Jesus’ expression for lasting happiness and peace, for eternal life, for heaven.
Jesus says that those of us who care for the least in our world will the ones who enter the kingdom. Many of us have been steeped in catechism and doctrine and religious practice and we might expect some other answer.
That’s why I say Jesus’ answer may be surprising. In a way, it is even more surprising because the sheep in the parable, like the goats, admit that they do not see Jesus in these least persons.
They just do what they can to care for them and Jesus says this is what leads them into the kingdom. Let’s look at some examples of what this might be like for us.
The Answer: Personal
In our personal lives, maybe you have a parent or spouse who is suffering with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Step by step, he or she is diminishing right before your eyes.
This is very painful to see in our loved ones. But, you make sure you give time to them.
You want them to feel that you are there and that they are not alone. “I was ill and you cared for me.”
Or maybe you have a son or daughter in high school or college who is floundering. They are neglecting their studies and hanging out with the wrong crowd and maybe trying drugs and alcohol.
You know that they are hungering for something – acceptance, belonging, purpose – something to help make sense of their lives. You lay down some boundaries, but above all you are there for them.
You listen to the feelings that are underneath their words or maybe underneath their lack of words and you try to provide emotional and spiritual nourishment. “I was hungry and you gave me food.”
The Answer: Societal
Then, on a societal level, maybe we see a man standing at a traffic intersection. He looks unshowered, he is wearing raggedy clothes, and he’s holding a cardboard sign that says: “Homeless. Out of work. Need job or money.”
We don’t know what is true or how any money we give him will be used. But still, we reflect on how this man might have gotten to this point and how humiliating this must be for him.
We may or may not offer him some money, but we do pray for him and for the Lord’s guidance in assisting many others like him in our county and state. “I was naked and you clothed me.”
And then there are many complicated issues before our country and our world. And we look at these in a time that feels very challenging.
We can be tempted to form opinions only from the viewpoint of our own wellbeing, of what’s best for me. But instead, we try to take a broader perspective and think about the common good of society and humanity in general.
We definitely take into account those who lack the basics here at home and those struggling for survival in other places. “Whatever you do for these least of mine, that you do for me.”
So, Jesus deals with a big question today and his answer may be surprising.
It is whoever cares for the least, even if we don’t see Jesus in them, we will enter the kingdom of God. That’s the message of the only Last Judgment scene in all of the gospels.