A COMMUNITY OF MERCY
(A biblical reflection on the SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING [YEAR A] – Sunday, 22 November 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17; Psalms: Psalm 23:1-3,5-6; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28
The Scripture Text
“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will say to those at His left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, 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 no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee? Then He will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(Matthew 25:31-46 RSV)
In today’s Gospel Matthew gives us an apocalyptic vision of the last judgement, when all the nations – without distinction between Jew and Gentile, without discrimination between priest and people – are assembled before the King. It would be a pity to limit the value of the passage to a last judgement scene, because what it offers is a picture of the kind of community where Jesus sees Himself to be recognized, the kind of community where Jesus sees Himself to be at home.
The presence of Jesus is hidden among the poor and the vulnerable: where their needs are recognized, Jesus is acknowledged. When the hungry are fed, when those who thirst are offered drink, when strangers are offered hospitality, when the naked are covered in dignity, when the sick are seen to, when prisoners are visited, Jesus Himself is touched by mercy. Their vulnerability is His vulnerability; He is present where human need is greatest.
According to this vision, if an alien came from outer space and asked us where our Jesus lived, we might have to take him to strange sanctuaries: refugee camps, back alleys, hospitals, prisons, and tell him that Jesus is to be found somewhere in these places. And tell him, too, that the blessed of God are to be found there, feeding, welcoming, clothing, visiting, paying attention.
In Matthew’s vision we have a list of human needs and appropriate responses by a caring community None of the needs is specifically religious: they are human needs as wide as the human heart. To those ordinary human needs there is the response of the Kingdom. That response is an authentically human one, and therefore, a profoundly religious one; it is honored by the title “blessed of My Father” (Matthew 25:34).
The blessed are praised for the simplest actions – and they are all actions not attitudes – to those who experience simple human needs. There are no records of great heroism, no stories of conquest, no great trials or sufferings, no marvellous triumphs over disaster, no feats of imaginative daring. The requirements are simple and don’t go beyond the capacity of any human being. There is no training required, no academic qualifications necessary. The actions are the simple response of those who pay attention to what happens in the world of the familiar and who move to answer the needs which confront them.
For Jesus, what happens in the world of the familiar has an eternity of importance about it: little acts of kindness have eternal significance; human graciousness and charity are ground enough for welcome into the fullness of the Kingdom.
The thought now is that Jesus looks upon every kindness done to a person in need, however lowly, as a kindness done to Himself. Those who are cursed bring the doom upon themselves because they failed to respond to simple human needs. They are no44)t accused of violent crimes, or offences on a grand scale – any more that the blessed were praised for heroic virtue; rather, they are accused because they failed to act on the human need they saw before them.
The shared problem of the blessed and the cursed is: “When did we see Thee …” (Matthew 25:37, 44). That may be our question too, for all we see is the legion of those in need. But the Gospel asks us to interpret what we see. The Gospel challenges us to see the broken body of Christ in the brokenness and the woundedness of those we see around us. Christ still suffers in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. To pay attention to them is to pay attention to the broken body of Christ. And to do that is to be welcomed as blessed of God, because it is to live as a community of mercy.
Note: Adapted from F. Denis McBride, CSsR, SEASONS OF THE WORD – Reflections on the Sunday Readings.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I adore You as my King! I am thankful that You protect me, care for me, and hear me when I call You. Grant me Your goodness and mercy all the days of my life, so that I’ll be able to be merciful to others all the time. May I dwell with You in Your Community of Mercy Amen.
Jakarta, 21 November 2020
A Christian Pilgrim