November 26, 2023; Mt 25:31-46; Christ the King
Today’s Gospel is one of the most famous passages of the New Testament. The Son of Man comes at the end of time and divides humanity into two groups, like a shepherd divides sheep from goats. The sheep are destined for eternal life and the goats for eternal punishment. The basis upon which this decision is made is what those involved do for Jesus. This much is clear. But here is the rub: it seems that neither the sheep nor the goats are aware of when they do or do not do something for Jesus. They all ask him: when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or imprisoned? These are honest questions, because as we all know Jesus is present in every person. So whenever we do anything to anyone, we do it to Jesus. But if this is the case, then what is the basis by which to divide the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the unrighteous? Is it simply a matter of amount? The sheep did more and the goats did less? Today’s Gospel provides another answer. It reveals that the basis for the judgment between the righteous and the unrighteous is not about an amount. It is about a “who.” Judgement will be rendered not because of how much we do or do not do, but because of who we do it for.
As the Gospel makes clear, what do for the least among us is what will matter on the Last Day. Let me put this another way: all of us have people in our lives who we love deeply. It is natural for us to serve them. We easily provide food, clothing, welcome, and support to those who are close to us. When we do this, of course, we do it for Jesus because he is present in those who we love. But the most important thing for Jesus is not serving the people that are close to us. The most important thing is to love those who we are least inclined to serve, those who are most difficult to serve. It is when we see Christ in them that we define ourselves as his true disciples.
It is a blessing to have good friends at school, those that we can share life with, those that we are eager to help when there is some need. Certainly, Christ is in those relationships. But Christ calls us beyond them to also serve those who are on the outside, those who others would reject or demean. It is when we serve and respect them that we act in a way Christ will never forget. It is a responsibility and, yes, a privilege to care for a spouse who is sick and who is gracious and thankful. But caring for an aging parent who is angry and cruel can be a heavy burden. Yet the Gospel tells us is that when we see Christ in such a parent, we earn an eternal reward. We all like to get together with our friends and those who think like us and share our values. Certainly Christ is present among us. But it is when we can see Christ in those who are less attractive, less influential, less educated, less polite—it is when we see and serve Christ in them, that we see the Christ that Jesus wants us to see.
Neither the sheep or the goats seem to understand what divides them from one another. But today’s Gospel makes the reason clear to us. It is serving the least, the most difficult to love, that is most important to Jesus. Seeing Christ in them is what separates the sheep from the goats.