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 men 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 men’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).