Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
During a conversation about the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew proclaimed this Sunday, a priest whom I admire shared an insight that I find very useful. He told me that this passage ought to be understood in a broad sense. In other words, the Lord does not provide a detailed and exclusive list, rather he shows us how to actually live the love incarnate we have found in Him. Of course, we are to practice those works of mercy he enumerates, but we must also act according to the logic of this passage, which is the one of the Beatitudes and, indeed, the entire Gospel. On many occasions Pope Francis has pointed out that in this passage we find the protocol that will be applied by Christ to judge us when we appear before Him.
This priest friend provided further commentary and additional advice. He told me that on the day when we appear before the Lord to be judged, He will say to us things such as these: I was your coworker and you tried to help me, I was the garbage collector in your neighborhood and you greeted me, I went to the same school and you helped with my studies and similar expressions. They follow from the passage, we are considering.
Notice that both to those on his right and those on his left, the Lord addresses them saying that whatever the did or did not do to the least of His brothers and sisters, they did it to Him. That means He identifies with every single human being, not an abstraction like ideologues, but concretely. He does not identify with a diffuse concept of humanity, but rather with every single one with whom he shares in our common humanity, even those who are disfigured by sin, the murderer, the crooked politician, the corrupt cleric; and also with the one whom I dislike and the one who thinks differently than I. He expects from us, His disciples, those who aspire to be faithful to His love, His friendship, His teachings, that we recognize Him in every single person. Just as St. Martin of Tours, whose feast we celebrated a few days ago, was able to recognize Him in the beggar to whom he gave his cape.
If I ever write a book on spirituality the only thing I know for sure is that the title would be: “What Jesus does not say,” because there are passages in the Gospel such as Matthew 25 that catch my attention on account of what the does not Lord say, as much for what he does say.
For example, the Lord never tells us: “Like one another,” but he does say to us “love one another.” He even acknowledges that we will have enemies, because he explicitly tells us to love them as well. He does not have any illusions or promise us popularity. He commands to love. Period. It is not a suggestion not even an exhortation. It is a commandment. Of course, it is not about sentimentality. Love is not a feeling. He commands us to do good always, everywhere, to everybody, even those whom we do not like or wish evil upon us.
Also, in this passage from the Gospel according to Matthew, the Lord does not say: “I was in prison while innocent and you visited me.” He simply says “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The Lord identifies with every person incarcerated, whether justly or unjustly, even the worst criminal.
I think he does that on purpose to remind us that even in the perpetrator of heinous acts we are to recognize his image, because all of us regardless of any other consideration have been created in his image and likeness.
Does that mean then that the Lord is not concerned with the evil we may do and therefore does not care whether we live a virtuous life or not? Of course not! The Lord is not indifferent to evil. How could he be when it led him to the cross? He finds evil repugnant. However, as the letter to the Hebrews states, He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. As pope Francis pointed out not too long ago, at the very moment when Judas Iscariot betrays Him with a kiss, He addressed him as friend. He does not insult him, curse him, hits him, spits him, threatens him. He defeats evil by doing good. That is why He desires that we do good too. It is about doing good to all, especially those who are in greater urgency, need or vulnerability. We will be judged according to the good we have done, not because our works will merit us grace or salvation, but rather because our works make manifest the love of God present in us and help us to grow in communion with Him. They lead us to participate here and now in His own life.
As we hear in the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord seeks, gathers, and heals. In the passage from Matthew we see the same pattern. The Lord comes, gathers, saves. So, do we when we do good. We go out of ourselves, lead others to God and heal their wounds. Doing good to all makes us good Samaritans who stoop down to the wounded, take them to the inn and heal their wounds. When we acknowledge, value and love others we grow in fraternity and communion with others in whom Christ is also present, with whom we share in our common human nature and, thus, with Him. Doing good to all makes us imitators of Him who comes out to meet us, leads us to the presence of the Father and heals our wounded nature.
If we wish to reign with Him, we must imitate Him by going out to meet our brothers and sisters, leading them to God so that their wounds may be healed by the medicine of mercy, which is nothing but the love of Jesus whom we have found and must become incarnate in our lives. It is a passionate and radical love made manifest in all its power on the Cross, which is His throne. Christ rules the entire universe from it with strong hand and arm outstretched.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid