We come today to the final Sunday in the Church’s year. The Gospel presents us with a vision of the last judgement, when the Son of Man comes in glory.
We might note that all the Gentile (that is, all non-Jewish) nations are gathered before the throne in judgement. The charge sheet does not mention religious duties but rather social action, or lack of it. One way of looking at this text is to consider that it is dealing with the salvation of the Gentiles. The twelve apostles have been given the task of judging the twelve tribes of Israel; it is the place of the Son of Man to judge the Gentiles. The criterion is how the person has treated the poor, weak and vulnerable members of society. The surprise on the part of those who have shown mercy shows that there was no ulterior motive in their acting with compassion: it was simple the right thing to do for a fellow human being who was suffering.
St John Paul II once remarked that a society can be judged by how it treats its weakest members. Perhaps we might include in this category a range of vulnerable people: refugees, immigrants, unemployed people, those who are mentally ill, and so on. The common denominator in such groups, as in those mentioned in the scene of the last judgement, is that they are, in economic terms, non-productive and therefore regarded as not worthy very much, “the undeserving poor” as the expression used to be. Yet they have needs, and perhaps the most basic need is to be recognised as a human being, as a person. Pope Francis has spoken of the importance of seeing faces rather than just a vast number of anonymous figures. The need to be loved, to be cared for, to have someone listen to one’s story is greater than the immediate material requirements, as anyone who spends time visiting people who are sick or those in prison soon discovers.
The last judgement deals with human values. If this is applied to Gentiles, then it must be relevant to later Gentile Christians as well. But the purpose is not to paint a picture of the end of time, but rather to spur us on to examine our lives in the here and now. The Bible emphasises the importance of social justice and care for vulnerable and neglected people. In this teaching, Jesus is deflecting his disciples’ attention away from himself and onto the suffering members of society. Not only is he to be found among them, he is actually identifying himself with them, just as he identified himself with those on the margins of social and religious life when he shared table-fellowship with them and scandalised ther respectable people of his day. Those who minister to persons in need often say that they receive m ore than they give: those who attend to suffering and marginalised people just because they are suffering and marginalised will be surprised at the recognition they receive.
Whatever you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you do unto me. (Matthew 25:40)
The description of the last judgement is an apocalyptic vision rather than a parable.
Salvation for all peple is presented as behaving in a decent human manner towards people in need.
Sheep and goats were often found in the same flock: goats needed more shelter at night.
Find a way of helping someone mentioned int he list at the last judgement, or someone else who is in need of care or simple attention.