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Christ The King

Last Ordinary Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

St. Matthew 25: 31 — 46

 

Introduction

This passage brings us to the end of Year A in our three year cycle of reading the four Gospels. We could hardly be surprised by the fact that St. Matthew describes a dramatic scenario, with vast cosmic dimensions. It is not a parable, but in a way is like a parable that serves to bring together the teaching of all of the parables and other strategies our Lord used to try and bring us to an understanding of who He really is, how much He is prepared to undergo for us, and what His message has really been all about. Our Reflection therefore has the special role of bringing our meditations on St. Matthew’s Gospel to a conclusion, and encouraging us to persevere, at all costs, in the Way our Beloved Messiah laid down for us to follow.

The lesson of St. Matthew here does not fit the modern “jet-set” mind. It is not “popular theology”, and plenty of people have already abandoned the Church because it will insist on listening to — “all this outdated stuff” instead of listening to the world around it and adapting its message to what they see as “relevant, real, and achievable”. In their view, it fails to give modern people what they want and they therefore vote with their feet!

Our passage of Sacred Scripture for reflection brings us back, as we shall see, to the absolute core of Judaism and Christianity in the Great Commandment. It also proclaims dramatically, clearly, and thus undeniably that, as followers of Yeshua, our Lord Jesus Christ we must:

•     be watchful    —   with the Living Word constantly in mind;
•     be ready         —   ready to act for Jesus Christ;
•     be faithful       —   persevere to the end in the Way God provides.

Our Lord’s final address to us in this Year of St. Matthew, tells us in no uncertain terms what it means to carry out these very special tasks, to the greater honour and glory of God.

This reading is not a parable but as J. Meier informs us is rather an unveiling of the truth behind chapters 24 and 25: the end time. Remember these chapters contain the teaching about:

•     The destruction of Jerusalem
•     The parable of the ten Bridesmaids
•     The parable of the talents

These help us focus on the central point: what is the chief virtue the judge is looking for? In our reading we also need to keep in mind: what does it mean to be watchful, ready, and faithful?

Read: The Gospel Story by R. Cox for an overview of this text.

Click here for a printable copy of our text

 

Some Reflections on our Text

The Great Assembly

Verses 31 to 33

“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.

This is certainly a magnificent scene. For the first time since Creation, as verse 31 tells us, all the angels will be assembled as the Son of Man takes His glorious throne. Matching this, all the nations, i.e. all of humanity, will be assembled before Him.

A rabbinic explanation may help us to understand the symbolism in our Lord’s separation of the sheep and the goats.

“Those on the right hand are the just, who study the Law, which is
at the right hand of God (Dt. 33: 2); those on the left are the wicked,
who study riches (Prov. 3: 16).” “In those on the right hand
righteousness, in those on the left hand, guilt preponderates.”

 

First matter before the Court: affirming the righteous

Verse 34 — Judgment

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.

Jesus is called King, and welcomes the blessed into His kingdom. He is not talking about just an entry, but about inheritance of the kingdom of God.

Some, here, emphasise being given charge of the kingdom. Others highlight more the privilege and blessing of being citizens of the kingdom. But on what grounds can we receive our inheritance?

Verse 35 and 36 — Evidence of righteousness

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you
gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,

naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison
and you visited me.’

What does this mean? Is that all we have to do to receive a full share in the Kingdom of God? For the moment, let’s keep with the text before us and read from the “Commentary of the Holy Bible” (Editor: J Dummelow), remembering that Jesus is not talking just about a social visit, but something which is much more.

Faith in Christ being presumed (for the persons judged are professing
Christians), the Judgment proceeds according to works, by which a
living is distinguished from a dead faith (Jas. 2: 14 — 26) The absolute
Lordship of Christ over the human race is expressed in a very simple
yet most emphatic way when it is said that every good deed done to
a fellow-creature is a good deed done to Christ, and that at the Last Day
all men will be judged according to their attitude to Him.

The rabbis also have some great sayings on charity that deserve to be remembered.

•     ‘Whoever exercises hospitality willingly, to him belongs Paradise.’
       ‘To entertain a traveller is a greater thing than to receive a
       manifestation of the Divine Majesty.’

•     ‘Whoever gives a crust to a just person, is as if he had observed the
       five books of the Law.

•     ‘Whoever visits the sick, shall be free from the judgment of Gehenna.’

•     ‘Imitate the deeds of God':

God clothes the naked.
(Gn. 3: 21); do thou also clothe the naked.

God visits the sick.
(Gn. 18: 1), do thou also visit the sick.

God consoles mourners.
(Gn. 25: 11), do thou also console mourners.’

A helpful thought to keep in mind is that our Lord himself experienced all of the situations and deprivation listed above.

Verses 37 to 40

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we
see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and
clothe you?

When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you,
whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you
did for me.’

The King, the Son of Man, has made an astounding remark — words to the effect:

“You did these things for me every time you did them for one of
these people who are unimportant but who are like brothers to me.”

The scholars tell us that the words of Jesus, “least brothers” refer in the first instance, to His own disciples. Here we need to remember that His way of touching the lives of (literally), and blessing others, is to do this through His disciples: one to another. Thus His blessings spread ever outwards, further and further among the nations. Evangelisation involves serving the needs of others in the love of Christ so that, ultimately, through His disciples, He reaches out to all humanity.

We can assume (see Appendix) that the elect know they have performed the traditional Acts of Mercy, and know that this is pleasing to God. What astounds them, however, is that the King claims they have done all this to Him. They therefore enquire as to what He means when He says they have done such things to Him. Before we read the King’s answer, we should note how our Lord, in telling this story, refers to “the righteous”. This is, in fact, the first time in the Greek text they are called “righteous”. There is a tendency for some Christians to think of this term as meaning, “the devout, pious, extremely loyal, and morally pure.” It does mean these things, but in a secondary way. The word refers primarily to those who do what God wants: to those who obey His will. The righteous, in the Biblical sense of the word, are those who “hear the word of God and keep it”; who constantly listen to Him and try their best to put His teaching into practice, i.e. obey. These people treasure the Word of God in their hearts and train themselves to listen to Him above all else. These are the righteous who therefore find themselves simply putting into practice daily, God’s Word echoing in their heart. They are the people always seeking to obey the Great Commandment of loving God and their neighbour as their own self.

In these few verses lies a mystery not even the righteous understand: Jesus has fully identified Himself with the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, not just among the fellowship of Christians, but far beyond.

In this remarkable passage, Jesus calls all in need His brothers. He therefore rewards deeds of love, wherever performed, for they have been done to Him. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Our Lord does not therefore consider them as though done to Him, but as being done directly to Him. (See Appendix).

He is present in all who suffer any deprivation. We are expected to act accordingly without fanfare or seeking personal gain, and to look upon such actions as normal, everyday behaviour.

 

Second matter before the Court:

Sentencing the “accursed”.

Verse 41 — The Judgment

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.

The only thing the “accursed” are suited to is to be the company of Satan.

Verses 42 and 43 — The evidence: failure to respond to people in need.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and
you
gave me no drink,

a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave
me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

This is rather alarming. At first reading, the King is here condemning to eternal fire, people who failed to carry out rather minor deeds for Him.

Verse 44 and 45 — The Judge’s reasoning

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’

The accursed are horrified and believe they are being treated unjustly. “But we never saw you hungry or thirsty or sick or in prison. If we had, we would have helped you.” By talking in this way they are condemned by the words from their own mouths. The King then adds His final judgement.

He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for
one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

 

Final decision of the Judge

Verse 46

And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous
to eternal life.”

The lesson is clear: those who neglect anyone in need of help are failing to do God’s will. They are therefore fit company for the devil!

Woe to all sinners, and especially to those who have no pity. It is
the man who had no pity who is banished to the fire, for instead
of love he put in his heart hatred. This is the sum of all vices, and
its chief manifestation is inhumanity.
                                       St. Euthymius the Great, (C.E. 377 — 493)

 

Conclusion

Adam Clarke has an interesting sentence: “The man who only sees with eyes of flesh is never likely to discover Christ in the person of a man destitute of the necessities of life”.

The converse is also true. Those who see with the eyes of the heart (as St. Benedict taught) will see human need all about them. They will find it natural to respond without thought of merit or distinction, or any other motive than to provide as best they can for that person. Our Lord, in this passage, has not been talking of doing earth-shattering or heroic deeds for others. These may be required in special circumstances, but He gives priority to our being on the lookout to help one another in the ordinary, everyday experience of life. This is to be the normal gateway into existence in the Household of God, our Father. It is a path within reach of everyone who chooses to take it: everyone!

We conclude as we started, with John Meier’s question: What does it mean to be watchful, ready, and faithful?

•     To be watchful means to be able to recognise Emmanuel, the
      Son of Man, in all those in need.

•     To be ready means to be loving towards the Son of Man in those
      who need help.

•     To be faithful means to translate this love into active service,
      that is, into concrete acts of mercy, for we are most like God
      when we are merciful and forgiving.

 

Shalom!

 

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource on
the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Last Sunday in Ordinary Time

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

 

“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”

 (Mark 16: 15)

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how
you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

 The Final Judgment

Last Ordinary Sunday   Year A                            St. Matthew 25: 31 to 46

A Foreword

This Sunday Gospel Reading brings to a close the Christian Year. It is also the celebration of completing our year-long “Reflections” on the Holy Gospel
according to St. Matthew. The Hebrew custom, on completion of reading the
Torah, the Five Books of Moses, is to celebrate this event joyfully in simple
family ways. For us too, it is a time of celebrating completion: First, completing
our Gospel for the year; and secondly, looking at the end-of-time spectacle
described by our Lord.

The great high-point of what is usually referred to as “The Final Judgment”, is
the joyful entry of those who earnestly try to do God’s Will, into His Kingdom
prepared for them from “from the foundation of the world”.

We may find ourselves somewhat startled by the strong image created by
Jesus when He talks of the “accursed” as going “into eternal fires prepared for
the devil and his angels”. But this is a rabbinic technique often used by our
Lord to emphasise the great dignity and blessings conferred on those who
strive to be faithful to Him and His words (i.e. His Torah), His Teaching on
God’s Will, and love for us.

We might, today, say that this was an ancient way of giving His teaching in a
kind of 3D — three dimensional form. It was our Lord’s way of allowing His
Word to pierce through all our barriers and defences, to reach the heart of
every person, and to call them to take their place in His Family Home.

This Sunday is therefore, to be a time of thanksgiving for the gift of the Holy
Gospels, and for the Word of God — Christ, our Torah — who speaks to us
through the Sacred Scriptures.

And now, for three thoughts arising from our Reflections.

1. Jesus, throughout His teaching, has been calling us to strive to be
righteous: to “hear the Word of God and keep it”. This can require great deeds
and certainly requires great faith to match such performance. But greatness,
in this sense, refers more to purity of intention. Even the smallest, most
infinitesimal deeds and thoughts can be great in God’s view. Everyone can
learn to be righteous and to act righteously.

2. The reward for a life of righteousness is not to be seen in physical wealth
but in enjoyment of God’s Presence. Jesus is “God-with-us”: Emmanuel. Our
reward is to live with Him for eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 3. We are called to very great intimacy and warmth of fellowship in Yeshua,
Jesus: our Emmanuel — our God-with-us. This requires strict, disciplined
attention to the qualities Jesus has taught: to be watchful, ready, and faithful.
What do these mean?

•    To be watchful means to be able to recognise Emmanuel, the Son
      of Man, in all those in need.

•    To be ready means to be loving towards the Son of Man in those who
      need help.

•    To be faithful means to translate this love into active service, that is,
      into concrete acts of mercy, for we are most like God when we are
      merciful and forgiving.
      Blessed be God, King of the universe, who rejoices with His People
      who have completed the appointed Gospel reflection for the year.

We look forward to the beginning of our new Christian Year with the celebration 
of Advent Sunday.

Let us pray for one another and celebrate the completion of our meditations for
the Christian Year and to form a strong intention to persevere in the coming year.

Shalom!

  Click here for a printable copy of the Points for Reflection

 

Matthew 25: 31 — 46

Last Ordinary Sunday     Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

31     14 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the
         angels with hi
m, he will sit upon his glorious throne,

32     and all the nations 15 will be assembled before him. And
         he will
separate them one from another, as a shepherd
         separates the
sheep from the goats.

33     He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34     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.

35     For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and
         you gave
me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,

36     naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in
         prison and
you visited me.’

37     Then the righteous 16 will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when
         did we
see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give
         you drink?

38     When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked
         and clothe you?

39     When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

40     And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, 
         whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine,
         you did
for me.’

41     17 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.

42     For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty
         and you
gave me no drink,

43     a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you
        
gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not
         care for me.’

44     18 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we
         see you
hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill
         or in prison, and
not minister to your needs?’

45     He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not
         do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

46     And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the
         righteous to eternal life.”

 

14 [31-46] The conclusion of the discourse, which is peculiar to Matthew, portrays the final judgment that will accompany the parousia. Although often called a “parable,” it is not really such, for the only parabolic elements are the depiction of the Son of Man as a shepherd and of the righteous and the wicked as sheep and goats respectively (⇒ Matthew 25:32-33). The criterion of judgment will be the deeds of mercy that have been done for the least of Jesus’ brothers (⇒ Matthew 25:40). A difficult and important question is the identification of these least brothers. Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. (⇒ Matthew 25:35, ⇒ 36) or a particular group of such sufferers? Scholars are divided in their response and arguments can be made for either side. But leaving aside the problem of what the traditional material that Matthew edited may have meant, it seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself; cf ⇒ Matthew 10:40, “Whoever receives you, receives me.”

See the note on ⇒ Matthew 16:27.

15 [32] All the nations: before the end the gospel will have been preached throughout the world (⇒ Matthew 24:14); thus the Gentiles will be judged on their response to it. But the phrase all the nations includes the Jews also, for at the judgment “the Son of Man . . . will repay everyone according to his conduct” (⇒ Matthew 16:27).

16 [37-40] The righteous will be astonished that in caring for the needs of the sufferers they were ministering to the Lord himself. One of these least brothers of mine: cf ⇒ Matthew 10:42.

17 [41] Fire prepared . . . his angels: cf 1 Enoch 10, 13 where it is said of the evil angels and Semyaza, their leader, “In those days they will lead them into the bottom of the fire – and in torment – in the prison (where) they will be locked up forever.”

18 [44-45] The accursed (⇒ Matthew 25:41) will be likewise astonished that their neglect of the sufferers was neglect of the Lord and will receive from him a similar answer.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright
owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may
be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the
copyright owner.

 

The Gospel Story by R. Cox

St. Matthew 25: 31 — 46

This scene follows naturally on the sentence of condemnation passed on the unprofitable servant of the previous parable. The three parables on the Second Coming have been concerned with individuals and life on this earth; on how people should occupy themselves, waiting for the coming of their Lord. Now is the time for the final scene, that last day when all men shall stand before the judgment seat of God. Our Lord begins his description with the impressive scenario of the Old Testament writers (e.g. Joel 3), then suddenly abandons it; all the spectacular scenery vanishes, leaving man face to face with God; or better, the Christian face to face with Christ. In place of Joel’s thunderous voice of Yahweh pronouncing sentence of doom on heathen wickedness, Christ the King examines his subjects with characteristic intimacy and simplicity. He is still the Son of Man, one of us, and he speaks our language: he does not need any elaborate stage-effects to impress us; he deals with persons and facts.

The facts he deals with are our acts of charity, he does not examine on the Ten Commandments; there is no need to; they are all summed up in charity (Romans 13: 9). But charity is a virtue that needs to be exercised; that is why our Lord speaks of charitable acts, concrete realities, not abstract virtue (1 John 4: 20). In his choice of these six particular instances of charity, was he not suiting his message to his audience? He was at Bethany; Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were listening to him. The first three examples of charity would have special meaning for them: the Master graciously thanking them for the food and lodging they had so generously given him and his apostles.

Jesus must be the centre and object of people’s lives; on their relation to him depends their destiny for all eternity.

But there is something deeper still in his teaching; something so new and startling that he says it over and over again; this they must never forget. He is not really going to leave them at his Ascension; he will live on in a new way in each member of his kingdom. ‘We are limbs of his body; flesh and bone, we belong to him’ (Eph. 5: 29). It is the doctrine of the Mystical Body: the identity of the Christian with Christ, so dramatically made known to St. Paul: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ — ‘Who are you. Lord?’ — ‘I am Jesus. whom Saul persecutes’
(Acts 9: 4 — 5).

 

 

Appendix

 
Righteousness: Doing God’s Will

 Being and Doing

In a Hebrew manner of teaching, St. Matthew has, in his account of our Lord’s Gospel Message, consistently pointed readers to the Great Commandment. It is so central to the entire Teaching and mission of Jesus, we repeat it yet again in this finale:

Foundation of the Teaching of Jesus

Jesus said —

The first Commandment is:

“ ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, is LORD alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’.

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these. The whole
law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

(Deuteronomy 6: 4.) (Leviticus 19: 18.) (Matthew 22: 39 — 41) (Mark 12: 29 — 31)

 In the “Final Judgment” scene in Matthew 25 Jesus demonstrates to His followers that the “righteous” or the “just” are “those who do God’s Will.” (See Meier below) They are those who do not just recite the Great Commandment, or even believe in God who gives it. The righteous are those who respond to God in their hearts with every bit of faith, hope and charity of which they are capable. They are members of God’s Household who are full of gratitude to the Creator and Redeemer and whose love over-flows into God-like actions. In rabbinic teaching it is expressed like this:

“The Household attendants of the King, what is their duty?

To imitate the King.” (Sifra 19: 2)

That is — to imitate, not impersonate. It means, for example, to bury the dead (as God buried Moses) and to visit the sick (as God visited Abraham).

It is thus to be holy, as God is holy (Leviticus 20: 26).

The New Testament reflects this same Hebrew concept:

Matthew 5: 48.         “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Luke 6: 36.               “Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful.”

Ephesians 5: 1.        “So be imitators of God, as beloved children,”
                                            (meaning, as members of God’s family.)

1 Corinthians 11: 1.  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
                                             (“Follow my example,” says St. Paul, as I follow the example of Christ.)

Righteousness: God-with-us

Now, to focus on Matthew 25: 31—46   —   The Final Judgment.

The good and the bad are being separated by a final blessing and curse.
Just as Israel inherited an earthly promised land, the new people of God
inherit the heavenly kingdom (cf. 5: 3, 5, and 20), ruled by the King who
is Son of Man. The King welcomes the blessed and then explains the
reason for the blessing: they took care of him when he was hungry,
thirsty, a foreigner, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Here we have a list of
the traditional “corporal works of mercy,” as known to Judaism,
Christianity and other religions.

It is not the commendation of works of mercy that is the surprising
element here. The elect know they have performed such works, and
know that such works are pleasing to God. Fittingly, they are designated
“the righteous” or “just,” i.e., those who do God’s will. What astounds
them, however, is that the King claims that they did all this “to Me”.
When? How? The King replies by revealing a mystery not even the just comprehended: Jesus has fully identified himself with the poor and
oppressed.

Jesus is indeed Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is with his people, his
Church, but he is most especially with the no-accounts of this world,
all those in desperate need of the basic necessities of life.
The Son of Man, the crucified King who judges all men, is encountered
in every one who suffers.

From: Matthew, by John P. Meier, Veritas Publications, Dublin, 1980.

 

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