November 20, 2005 - Pentecost A Last

Matthew 25:31-46

 31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit on the throne of his Glory. 32 All the nations will be brought before him, and as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 so will he do with them, placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 The King will say to those on his right: 'Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. 36 I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your house. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to see me.'

37 Then the good people will ask him: 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food; thirsty and give you drink, 38 or a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to see you?' 40 The King will answer, 'Truly, I say to you: whenever you did this to these little ones who are my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.'

41 Then he will say to those on his left: 'Go, cursed people, out of my sight into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you did not give me anything to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me into your house; I was naked and you did not clothe me; I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

44 They, too, will ask: 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked or a stranger, sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 The King will answer them: 'Truly, I say to you: whatever you did not do for one of these little ones, you did not do for me.'

46 And these will go into eternal punishment, but the just to eternal life."

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

We know that Christians are a minority in the world. As we do now, the Jews wondered about the majority of nations in the world, who were not among the Chosen People and did not know about God or his promises. The Jews envisioned a huge multitude, ready to "devour them," a restless world where God should one day impose his Law. They used to call them: the nations.

Jesus goes beyond these narrow perspectives and shows us how he will judge everyone, making no distinctions based on origins when he comes as King of all nations. All those who, without knowing Christ, have shared in the common destiny of humankind, will be judged by him. In fact, he never abandoned them, but placed at their side "those little ones who are his brothers and sisters," as his representatives.

See, Christ reveals the innumerable human deeds that have built what is best in our civilization, and people brought before him look with amazement at the God whom they loved or despised in the person of their neighbor. Although the majority of them never thought of the afterlife, the kingdom of God is presented to them with its only law: Love.

There is no neutral place. The fire means the torment of those who condemned themselves by closing and freezing their hearts so that they became incapable of love: now the splendor of God, who is love, burns and pains them.

Whenever you did this to these little ones who are my brothers and sisters (v. 40). Jesus speaks of looking after our neighbor, be he friend or foe, not of serving the community, or a class, or a nation in general, because using these words, we often exclude a group of our brothers and sisters, who do not belong to our nation or to our class. On the other hand, one who really loves, acknowledges his sisters and brothers without giving too much importance to any labels: it is the person who exists and lives for God.

And these will go into eternal punishment (v. 46). There is something that shocks us today in the division of the good and the wicked, and it seems to us to be an outdated view (see com. on Mt 13:36). In one sense it is true. Up to the recent times people were mainly "of one idea." It did not take long for youth to see what were the options in life, rarely did a person find more than one religion in the local milieu and she would choose either the "right" road or the "wrong" road. Some conversions for better or worse would follow (Ez 8), but humanity seemed to be divided between the good and the evil. Today it is quite different: the choices we make are extremely complex and it takes time to discern clearly. All of life or much of it today may be lived by a person who has within the self a good and an evil being at the same time.

Let us understand then that Jesus spoke the language of the prophets, schematizing options. In fact Jesus denounces, not heinous crimes but selfishness in daily life as is found in each of us, and he depicts, like a father to his children the end towards which we are heading. It is to be hoped that the great majority will not reject the truth; certain persons consciously choose their own ruin and unfortunately are capable of continuing in their choice to the bitter end.

To say that God is so good that he will save them at the last moment is to affirm something that Jesus never intended to say. It would mean that all that a person lived through was of slight importance and that our freedom was no more than a game.

What Jesus says about judging non-Christian people likewise applies to us. But we would be mistaken if we repeatedly presented this parable as expressing the totality of Christian duties. What the world needs above all is not bread and water and clothing, but the truth and the hope that God entrusted to his chosen people. Christians would be unfaithful to their mission if they confined themselves to merely talking about assistance, housing and the like and forgot what is really life for humankind – first, the knowledge and love of their Lord. He will always be first and we need him to be so for us. He takes as done to himself all that we do for our sisters and brothers but does not want to be confused with them.

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Comments by Wesley

1. The presence of GOD seems to be directly tied to our relationships with our neighbors. That which helps people is of GOD and that which ignores or hurts people is not of GOD. You will note that remembering the Sabbath is not a criterion here. Nor are rules regarding GOD's name or even idolatry. Anyone can be in GOD's presence who cares for another.

2. This has extensions into the beginning list from Paul about there being no distinction between Jews and Greeks, Slaves and Free, Males and Females. It moves into color as well as culture, educational levels as well as economic, sexual orientation as well as physical gender, and the list goes on and on. There is nothing that separates us from GOD, only self-imposed separations by ourselves.

3. No one is categorically ruled out before the game is over. All our schematizing separates us. Prophets like Jesus remind us that all our categorization is only for our own aggrandizement. It has nothing to do with GOD's expansive and expanding love. Prophets call us to repent our schemes to come out on top and to live helpfully with one another.

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