Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
‘Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Jesus said: When the Son of Man comes in glory … he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Christianity is often portrayed as a religion of forgiveness and love. This is, of course, true, but this simplistic view does not tell the whole story. In Matthew, chapter 5, verse 17, Jesus says: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. Jesus’ words make it clear that the law of God is important.
The law of God of which Jesus speaks is the ‘real’ law, not the constructs of religious leaders and political powers. The laws of the scribes and the Pharisees distanced people from God, aligning their adherents with the goats who would ultimately be condemned to eternal damnation. It is only by following the law which Jesus came to fulfil that we will be led into the company of the sheep at his right hand.
As well as warning us that there will be consequences if we fall into the trap of believing that saying we are Christian is enough, today’s reading also gives us a route map for the way in which we should live our lives according to God’s law. When questioned, Jesus taught that we should love God above all things, and then we should love our neighbours, including our enemies! Today we are given examples of what living in the spirit of Christian love really means. Jesus tells us that it is our duty to see him in the most vulnerable in our world: the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and the prisoner. We are called to do that which is counter-cultural to so many of us … to embrace the untouchable, the unlikeable, those who are ‘not like us’.
Our view of Christianity is often distorted by a misplaced focus on the ‘benefits’ of faith, without our ever considering our duty to live in a Christ-like way. Throughout the gospel narrative we are reminded that there will be a second-coming of Christ, and that that time will be a time of judgement, a time of embracing and separation. Today we are called to decide where our ultimate destination is going to be … on the right with the sheep, Jesus’ chosen ones, or on the left, condemned to eternal damnation? The solution to this conundrum lies in our hands!
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