Jesus said: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The church chose a Gospel passage which is the final teaching of Jesus’s public life according to St. Matthew in celebrating the Feast of Christ the King today. It signifies the completion of the lectionary’s continuous reading for the year.
To help us better appreciate the reading and the feast, we have to understand the word “King” in its traditional sense. Traditionally, kings are not only the leaders but are also the fountain of justice. Thus, there is a saying in the United Kingdom: “The King/Queen can do no wrong.” It is because they are the criterion of justice. Reading the Gospel passage in the context of this traditional sense, kingship means judgement.
However, this judgment is also different from that we know in our modern sense. Because Jesus is a special kind of king, his judgment is also special. The criterion or standard of his judgment is “the good news for the poor”.
Meanwhile, he also calls us to repent because from the parable, we know that what Jesus refers to is of a future and final judgment. This implies that our present judgments are never “final”. He final judgement will occur only “when the Son of Man comes in his glory escorted by all his angels”. It is like what St. Paul said in his first letter to the Cor: “There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of the human heart” (1 Cor 4:5).
What are the present judgements? They could be moments that we experienced serious illness, breaking down of our marriage, felling into a fault, a national crisis or natural disaster. It is always in such moments that we experience authentic encounters with God. Such moments and experiences reinforce the teaching of the entire Bible that when God comes into the world “the lowly are lifted up and set in the company of princes”, “the last comes first”, etc.
Jesus says that with his coming into the world, everyone is a “chosen” person. Everyone is to be treated with limitless respect. Jesus is already present, but in disguise, in every person. What do we see when we see the needy? Do we focus on the hidden glory of others? How would we fare if human history were to be terminated today?
Therefore, the message of today’s reading is simple: “Lord, you will judge me on my love and service of others”. With this simple message, may we recognize Jesus face. Amen.