"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.'”
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’s 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 uncertain. Human beings have imagined a scenario where they can start all over again: reincarnation. But the same question arises 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).
But the point of this reading is not to divide the world into good and bad people (does anyone fit fully 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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