The church year ends this week. Our calendar year is not far behind. These endings carry a certain finality about them. We’ve spent the year studying Matthew’s gospel, with its emphasis on God’s kingdom. We look forward to the start of a new cycle following Mark, who ponders the identity of Jesus and the meaning of his coming. We’re always glad to get to Advent, the happy season of warmth and giving. But before we leap into tomorrow, this church year has one more lesson to teach us.
The liturgical calendar always ends with Christ the Universal Ruler, but this week’s readings for this feast are remarkably different each time. In Matthew’s year, Christ’s rule is defined in terms of judgment. A ruler has the power to separate good from evil, lives worthy of reward from those deserving punishment. Rulers establish the rules and enforce them. But in Matthew’s judgment scene, the rules turn out to be completely different from what everyone expected. The Son of Man doesn’t quiz people about whether they went to church or obeyed the commandments. No one is asked about saying their prayers. What does concern the king is how the saddest members of society are treated.
If we took the quiz today, how would we do? This is an appropriate reflection for the end of the year. It’s also a good time to consider how we might prepare to pass this exam at the mother of all endings.
Ask yourself the questions that appear in the last judgment.
Where do you stand today, with the sheep or the goats?
Find a way to answer the needs of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and imprisoned, in the upcoming year. Gifts of generosity, hospitality, and compassion are always in season.
(Matthew 25: 25 The Parable of the Three Servants)
The answer will come to them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me – you failed to do it to me’
The Story – A Son with an Eternal Future
Mourners proceeded slowly toward the grieving mother who stood beside the casket of her son. This very young man had died in a tragic accident. Everyone who had gathered to pay their respects ached inside, wondering what they might say to this sorrowful mother. But she smiled at them through her tears. And she said, ‘At least I know where my son is right now’.
She explained that earlier that day a dishevelled man hobbled in on crutches. Even though he was choked up, he found the words to say, ‘I just had to come and pay my respects. You know, I sell newspaper and sometimes beg for spare change over the expressway entrance. Every morning your son would stop by. He always smiled, said hello, and asked how I was doing. He usually had a cup of coffee for me and sometimes a sandwich. He treated me decent’.
And those who come to offer words of comfort to this grieving mother were themselves comforted as it dawned on them: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. Come, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’.
And all the family and the many friends who came to grieve walked away having had a final lesson in faith from this fine young man.
Christopher wanted to serve the king. He wanted to go to the palace and give himself to serve the king. But he was held up. First he had to look for his aging parents. When he set off he had a gift for the king but he met a poor family who had been robbed of their belongings and he gave the gift to them. Later on he met a family whose cart had stuck deep in the mud. He stayed to help them and got sprayed with mud. Now he had no gift and his fine clothes were filthy. He felt he could not journey on but something encouraged him – words he had heard long ago. When he finally reached the palace, he received a royal welcome. He was about to apologise for the state he was in but the king said, ‘You have been a great help to me over the years, in the way you cared for your parents, in the way you gave to the poor and when you helped those in need. I was there and it was me you gave your help and love to. Welcome to the fullness of the kingdom which you have served for a long time’.
Go from here as those committed to bring Christ’s reign closer.
We will be a challenge to the powerful;
we will be a support to the suffering;
we will be a word of hope to the despairing;
we will be a beacon of hope to the uncertain;
we will be an encouraging presence to the venturesome.
We go with confidence, we go in peace!
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