A close reading of the parable can help avoid that reductionist interpretation. Observe that the parable opens with Jesus as judge of humanity - and the judgment is serious. The accursed will go to the "eternal fire" with the devil and his followers. The blessed will be welcomed into the kingdom prepared since the foundation of the world. The choices that each person makes will determine their eternal fate. But the choices do not involve the pride of good works as if the "blessed" could say, "look at how good I have acted; I deserve to go to heaven." No, the blessed are genuinely surprised, "Lord, when did we see you hungry...?"
But surprise does not imply an arbitrary judgment. Notice that Jesus gathers "all the nations."* His criteria for judging them is slightly different than for his contemporaries and subsequent hearers of his word. They (we) are judged precisely on how we respond to Jesus. But the nations (the gentiles) who did not know about Jesus will still be judged. In their case it will be in terms of the "law written on their hearts" (Rom 2:15, cf. Lk 18:20). To separate the sheep and goats, Jesus uses to the most obvious and universally acknowledged part of that law - care for the weakest, the defenseless. But such care is not easy. All of us tend to be selective in our compassion.** For example, in our culture we can have great compassion for a woman facing a difficult pregnancy, but not for the tiny child invisible to our sight. Likewise we can be blind to the undocumented immigrant, the terminally ill and the human embryo treated as a consumer product. Jesus presents a broad range of the marginated and repeats the list four times so we will not miss his point. Unfortunately today we are all influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche which calls this sentimentality and instructs us to be realists, that is, to get on the side of the strong. There will be surprises, and not all pleasant, when Jesus comes to judge all the nations. Scales will fall from our eyes; the slogans we used to defend ourselves will catch in our throats.
A final thing to notice in the parable is the very phrase "least brothers of mine." While it refers to the sick, the immigrant, the jailed, it has echoes we cannot ignore. Jesus earlier spoke about the "least in the kingdom" as being greater than John the Baptist. (Mt 11:11) He is talking about his explicit followers. Also he says "anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." (Mk 9:41) In some mysterious way the salvation of non-believers will hinge on how they treat us. Now I know this can sound like an appeal for special treatment, but it is not. I think about it when I am in a non-church setting, like the grocery store, but identified as a priest. How non-believers respond to me, not as Phil Bloom but as a representative of Christ, may affect their eternal fate. So I had better be careful not to let my person - grumpiness, haste, whatever - get between them and a potential relationship to Jesus. Each of us will ultimately be saved or lost in relation to him.
Now talking about our personal relationship with Jesus, this Sunday I wish to underscore two things. The first is our preparation for the Year of Jubilee. At the end of Mass I will bless the Jubilee plaque. It has on it the words "Christus, heri, hodie, semper." That is, "Christ, yesterday, today and forever." This plaque will be placed above the door designated as our parish holy door. The door will be sealed during the Advent preparation period and will be blessed at our Christmas eve Masses. The holy door represents Jesus who is the one gate to salvation. You will be invited to pass through it. Also I am counting on you to invite your family members, your neighbors, your friends to do the same. In five weeks we begin the great year of Jubilee. Jesus himself welcomes those who are brokenhearted, confused and lonely. Pope John Paul promised great blessings, a new springtime.
Secondly, I invite you right now to commit yourself to a Holy Hour each week with Jesus. Our Adoration Committee has been organizing in order to extend Eucharistic Adoration from Wednesday morning through Saturday morning. In other words seventy-two hours of round the clock prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. That means we need at least seventy-two volunteers, especially for those night time hours. I would especially like to issue the challenge to young men to sign up for those hours from midnite to 5 a.m. After the communion prayer we will be handing out sign up sheets.
Please consider this as a way of expressing your Stewardship of time, talent and treasure, to give back to Jesus in this way one of the 168 hours he gives you each week. I am so please with the way Holy Family has responded so far to Sacrificial Giving. Last Sunday $146,588 were pledged and various people indicated ways they are giving of time and talent. If you have not yet turned in those forms, please do so in our first collection. And consider how you might devote an hour each week to Jesus. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that one day everything will be subjected to him. Let us place our lives today under the banner of Christ the King.
*The preceding parables (the Bridegroom who judges the ten maidens, the Master who judges the servants for their use of the talents) are directed to Jewish hearers of Jesus and ultimately to us Christians. The parable of the sheep and goats explicitly envisions Gentiles, that is, the rest of the human race.
**One could argue that Hitler was a compassionate man. Within his twisted framework he had "compassion" for those he considered persecuted (his kinsmen). What he lacked were the virtues (honesty, humility, justice, temperance, etc.) which prevent compassion from becoming demonic.
From Archives (Christ the King, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Padre Miguel Pro "¡Viva Cristo Rey!"
Blessing of Jubilee Doors for Church or Home (National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Website)
Explanation of Jubilee Logo (Dublin Diocese)
Mistaken Report about the Mary Bloom Center
Parish Picture Album
(Noviembre de 2011)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru