WE CHRISTIANS believe that at the end of time, Jesus Christ will come again both as king and judge. This is what this Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) tells us.
Jesus is King. This is what the Bible declares. He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:16, Revelation 17:14, 19:16), the “one like a son of man who received from the Ancient of Days ? dominion, splendor, and kingship – and who is to be served by all nations, peoples and tongues” (Daniel 7:13-14), and “the one raised from the dead and seating at The Father’s right hand in heaven, far above every principality, authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).
Jesus is also our Judge. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). To the Son, the Father has given all judgment (John 5:22), both of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42).
In this Sunday’s gospel we are told, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:31-34, 41).
To both groups, Jesus explains certain concrete bases for their reward or punishment – whether they gave him food when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him as a stranger, clothed him when he was naked, cared for him when he was ill, and visited him when he was in prison. And the people wondered, “When did we ever saw you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill, and imprisoned?” Jesus’ answer to them: “What you did, or did not do, for one of these least ones, you did, or did not do, for me.”
In no way does this contradict what we already know so well – that God’s offer of salvation is rooted in our belief in Jesus. As the popular Bible verse says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). Yes, faith in Jesus is what will ultimately lead to our salvation, but our belief in Him should not only be a knowledge thing – or one that is merely confined to our minds. Our faith should be alive. St. James writes, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
Thus, to be alive, faith must work through love (Galatians 5:6). And this love is two-fold – love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40), with the former manifested in the latter. As the Bible warns us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).
Therefore, whatever we do to our brothers and sisters in this world, based on faith or on the lack of it, does have eternal implications. Will we do good or harm to our neighbor, or will we do nothing at all? Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned are just specific examples of good works that we can do which the Lord has given us; the list can go on. But another important question is, “Will our good works be based on genuine love or just on self-serving motives?” More importantly, “Will we recognize the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor, the least, the lost, and the last?”
The coming King and Judge knows the purity of our hearts and the integrity of our actions. At the Lord’s second coming or immediately after our death, whichever comes first, may we hear Jesus, our King and Judge, telling us, “come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”