Christ the King Year A
The title of today’s parable, namely the parable of the last judgement fails to fully grasp what is at stake. Firstly, the judicial metaphor is only one of several metaphors at work here. Secondly, the impression is that the parable will only be of relevance in a dim and distant future. Jesus speaks this parable not for people at the end of time but for people here and now, such as you and me. There is much repetition in this parable to alert us to the fact that what we do here and now while living with those around us has consequences.
The two dialogues in the parable result in Jesus being associated four times with the hungry, the thirsty, foreigners, the naked, the sick or those in prison. Of all the people in the world surrounding us, Jesus is first to be found among those in need and importantly also among us when we are in need. Isn’t it strange that Jesus so closely identifies with us in our weaknesses rather than our achievements? Jesus even identifies with us when we go badly wrong and land ourselves in prison. The mention of prison suggests some guilt, and yet prisoners are among the privileged group with whom Jesus also identifies. The judgement of which Jesus speaks in this parable is nothing like human justice.
In this parable, as through his ministry to the poor and the oppressed, Jesus reveals God’s interest in the least in this world. Many of us will recognise that when we were at rock bottom at various points in our lives, somehow we pulled through – by experiencing the closeness of the Lord both directly and indirectly through others.
Jesus employs the metaphor of the shepherd to speak of his role with the sheep. This metaphor when used for the divine evokes God’s great care for his sheep, his seeking the lost and binding the wounds of the sick. This complements the repeated association of Jesus with the weak and oppressed, since Jesus as Shepherd now models the positive behaviour of care towards those in need.
When we return to the repeated situation of which Jesus speaks – being hungry, thirsty, a foreigner, naked, sick or in prison – we find Jesus associating with those down on their luck, but also modelling the response of loving care towards them. Christ is at either side of every encounter enabling both the giving and the receiving of love and so enter into the dynamic of eternal life.
God’s intended desire from the beginning of creation is to welcome us into the kingdom as shown in the first words spoken by the king in the parable: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Let us recognise Christ’s closeness in our weakness. So we will be able to imitate Christ in coming close to those in need around us.
An excellent way for us to remember this double association with Christ, in both receiving and giving Christ’s love, is the prayer which Saint Patrick has given us: Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today.