"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."
Some people have a recurring nightmare in which they are being judged and found totally wanting. Today's reading sounds just like such a nightmare. Earlier generations of Christians thought about “that day” (dies illa) more than people want to do now. For centuries they sang that austere sequence Dies irae (Day of wrath), meditating on that ultimate scene of judgement.
It is impossible to evade the question of ultimate judgment, however you think of it. In the sight of God what will my life amount to in the end? In the face of that ultimate question we all feel naked and ashamed. Human beings have imagined a scenario where they can start all over again: reincarnation. But the same question would only arise again and again. This is not how the Judeo-Christian tradition sees it. In the words of Qoheleth, “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie” (11:3). There is no coming back, as the rich man discovered in Jesus’ parable (Lk 16:19-31). These are grim thoughts.
But the point of this reading is not to divide the world into good and bad people (does anyone fit perfectly in either of those categories?), but to make the point that in serving one another we are serving God. Our ultimate destiny, the thing that seems farthest away, actually hangs on the things nearest to hand, the most proximate: on how we treat the Lord in “the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned.”
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