The Final Judgement
Last Ord Year A
Matthew 25: 31 — 46
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:
Meier also helps us focus on the central point: what is the criterion of judgement? In our reading the key idea to keep in mind is: what does it mean to be watchful, ready, and faithful?
Read The Gospel Story by R Cox for an overview of this text.
Some Notes On the Text
Verses 31 — 33
These verses open a vast scene before us. They reflect early Judaic concepts. Some rabbinic notes will help us appreciate what our Lord is alluding to:
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
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).
A helpful thought to keep in mind is that our Lord himself experienced all six of these deprivations.
Verses 37 — 39
We are reminded by John Meier that the elect know they have performed the traditional acts of Mercy, and know that this is pleasing to God. What astounds them 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 what echoes in their heart.
Herein 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.
Again, we call on John Meier. 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 to him.
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.
Verses 41 — 43
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.
The accused 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." They are condemned by their own testimony. The King then adds his final judgement.
Verses 45 and 46
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!
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 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 on a divine level with our Creator. It is a path within reach of everyone who chooses to take it.
We conclude as we started, with John Meier's question: What does it mean to be watchful, ready, and faithful?
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