Matthew presents Jesus the universal judge who presides over a grand assembly of the faithful and the many and discerns whether they have lived according to his gospel.
At first the scene might be on to evoke fear and concern in our hearts.
But let us look more deeply.
Yes, it is a teaching of Jesus that speaks of judgement, but it does this in a way to highlight that the gospel requires of us more than mere words and intentions. The essence of the teaching is that living the good news means acting in ways that are just, generous and that are outreaching to those less fortunate.
So we might notice that the ‘judgment’ – the statements of Jesus – are merely a statements about what already has been done, or failed to be done. It merely brings out a reality that has been present all along.
Secondly notice the element of surprise. Both those who have failed to reach out beyond themselves in order to care for others and indeed those who have in fact done this – are both surprised! Both express astonishment that in fact Jesus was to be seen, found and served in such moments.
Those who have failed to act generously in life are astonished that in every cry there was a chance to serve Jesus.
Those who have in fact reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and the incarcerated are equally surprised to find that in doing so they were serving Jesus too.
In all of this perhaps we see that acting justly, compassionately and caringly is an innate quality. It happens naturally and spontaneously as an expression of who we really are. Equally we see in this story the power of selfishness and self centredness to blind us and to prevent us from actin on what otherwise might be our true nature.
We are made for each other. We are social creatures. More so we are made in God’s image and likeness and so are essentially relational. A real expression of our nature is thus to reach out to others around us who need our help and concern.
There are many ways to reach out to the needy. To give but two examples of what I mean here. The imprisoned are more prevalent than merely those in jails – there are many imprisoned by false self-images or bullied so that they shrink into the narrowest and loneliest of places to live. The hungry are not only on the streets but often in our midst as well fed people, who in fact hunger for affection or for rest or for spiritual nourishment. And the list goes on.
Let us tend the practice of compassion in our lives. Let it grow to be a natural and spontaneous response to need. In such ways we will develop the attitudes that underpin the responses that Jesus so ardently seeks in our world
The season of Lent is such an ideal time to make these renewal efforts Let us live these forty days in that spirit.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.