sabato 25 novembre 2017

«Separabit eos ab invicem»

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. On this day the Church celebrates the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe. In a sense, this celebration sums up the whole liturgical year: Christ the King is the Son of God who became man and was conceived of the Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem of Judea, was baptized by John at the Jordan, announced the kingdom of God, “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38), suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, on the third day rose again from the dead and finally ascended into heaven. In the gospel of Luke, we read a parable, where Jesus says that “a nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return” (Lk 19:12). Jesus was speaking of himself: with his ascension, he left for a far country to receive the title of king; some day he will come back “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.” It is the scene that today’s gospel presents to us: that Jesus, who once came as savior, at the end of time will come back as king and judge.

What we have just heard is not a parable, but a prophetic description of the final judgment that will accompany the second coming of Christ—the parousia. This vision closes the “eschatological discourse” of Jesus and, with it, his public ministry; in the following chapter, the narrative of the passion will start. So, we could consider this passage as the conclusion and summary of Matthew’s gospel: we find in it the main points we encountered through the gospel. Jesus, who introduces himself as the “Son of Man,” to depict the final judgment, compares himself to a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats: “He will separate them one from another” (separabit eos ab invicem). The final judgment is the moment for separation. If you remember, we had already found this point in the parable of weeds among the wheat and in the parable of the net thrown into the sea. In those parables we were told that it is not now the time to separate the weeds from the wheat, good from bad fish; but at the end of the age that separation will be done. It is exactly what Jesus says now using the image of sheep and goats.

How will this separation be done? What is the criterion to distinguish between the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the wicked? The standard of judgment consists in the works of mercy. As Saint John of the Cross says, “At the evening of life, we will be judged on our love.” At that time, faith will not be enough; we will have to show our deeds. Even in this case, if you remember, we had already found the same teaching in some of the latest parables. In the parable of the wedding feast, some of the guests were expelled from the banquet because devoid of the wedding garment; in the parable of the ten virgins, the foolish ones were excluded because without oil to furnish their lamps. In those cases, we said that both the wedding garment and the oil supply were a symbol of the good works that should always accompany faith. “Faith of itself—Saint James says—if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17). And on the last day we will be precisely judged on works.

To whom should we show mercy? To the “little ones,” to those whom Jesus calls “these least brothers of mine.” Who are they? Keep in mind that this judgement is intended for all the nations. So, the little ones are, first of all, the disciples of Jesus. In his “missionary discourse” Jesus had said, “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42). But we can see in these little ones anybody. Let us not forget the parable of the good Samaritan: it is not important to know who is our neighbor, but to make ourselves neighbor of others. Is it necessary, while ministering to others, to see Jesus in them? No, because Jesus is present in them, whether we know it or not. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”