November 26, 2017
Christ the King
The liturgical year that we have journeyed with the Gospel of Matthew concludes this Sunday with the Sacred Liturgy called Christ the King of the universe. And the passage of the Gospel we read today is just the end of that long part of the Gospel preceding the story of the Passion of Jesus: we are at the end of Chapter 25, and from Chapter 26 Matthew begins to tell the events of Easter.
It is a well-known piece, that of the so-called universal judgment (Mt 25:31-46): Jesus tells us that in the final moment of history He will return, He will sit on the throne of His glory and begin judging all men.
About this, there is nothing new: every religion expects that, at the end of time, there will be a judgment, and all persons will be judged according to their own works.
What’s surprising, first of all, is the criterion that the King of glory uses in His judgment: the Kingdom belongs to those who have performed little gestures of love and acceptance: giving drink, nourishment, clothing, visits … not heroic gestures, not gestures far from what is everyday life, for all. Not flashy gestures, worthy of note. Neither religious nor sacred gestures, rather, the opposite, lay gestures, made in the street, in the home, where it happens, where it is needed.
The Kingdom will belong to those who will have known the needs of their brothers and sisters, or who has been able to look a little further than themselves, who will have come out of themselves to meet the other: this is the journey that begins on earth and ends in Heaven.
The amazement of the saved – like that of the condemned – tells of their inability to think that salvation – or condemnation – would pass through that gesture: the gesture was not made to earn heaven, but only because it was believed that that person, at that time, needed help; he was considered a brother, and that his need was more important than one’s own time, one’s own business, one’s own life.
And it is this gratuitousness, this freedom from any other purpose that is not love itself in making the gesture truly eternal, for which the Lord, at the end of time, will only notice the beauty of a logic of love that makes a true life.
But what is most surprising is that the Lord, King and Judge of the Universe, identifies and finds Himself in the poor one who, at that moment, was in need. First, He does not identify Himself with those who have given, those who have made gestures of love, those who have had compassion, but with those who need those things, with every “little one”. This is great news.
This is to point out that every act truly done in love is a gesture made to God: it is the true new worship. And there is no worship made to God that does not pass through mutual love among brothers. Matthew had already warned us about this whenever he spoke of worshiping God that it was best to interrupt it if it was not accompanied by reconciliation between brothers (see Mt 5:23-24)
But it also means that every needy person, poor person, every least one has a special bond with the Son of man who has traversed the path of sorrow: there is such a close relationship, an identification with the crucified man, who synthesizes and collects in himself every human pain. As if all human pain was somehow there, on the cross; and any relief brought to any man in pain is consequently a relief brought to Him.
We are far from the image of a powerful and “harsh” God spoken of by servant in last Sunday’s parable (Mt 25:24), a God to be feared, One from Whom to hide.
And the Gospel simply wants to bring us to this point, to know a God who reveals Himself where the person experiences his/her own fragility, and it brings us to unmask our false image of God, so that we can finally entrust ourselves to Him.
And to conclude this work, Matthew will lead us to contemplate the mystery of the Passion, where every false image of God, built on our fears or on our need to be great, is destroyed and where God reveals himself for Who He is: a God of love. Now we know where to look for the Lord.
One last remark concerns the “little ones” spoken by the Lord in His judgment: “Truly I say to you, all you did to one of these my little brothers, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
Who are these little ones?
The question is important and much has been written on the topic: in the Gospel of Matthew the little ones are first of all the disciples or the missionaries of the Gospel.
If this is so, judgment would concern the actual reception of the Gospel message by the people: whoever welcomed only one of these little ones, has welcomed the Lord (cf. Mt 10:11).
This interpretation can be true, but certainly does not exhaust the entire value of the text. And it is good that Jesus remains deliberately vague, because we are not tempted to wonder if this little one who standing in front of us at this moment is a disciple or not.
The reason why one is worthy of my attentiveness is not that he is one of ours, but that he is a person, one who is needy. Only this gratuitousness is the key to the door of the Kingdom.