Monday, November 24, 2014

Homily - 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year B)

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year B)

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11        Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14       Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8

Once, when a conference of ministers was held in a certain town, a certain old preacher had sat quietly through it for a number of days until, toward the end of the conference, he was suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to speak. He arose thoughtfully and almost stumblingly fumbled for his words. Finally, his thoughts took form, his words fell in the rhythm of a marching column, and his impassioned oratory beat down upon the upturned faces of his audience until, as he arose to his peroration and reached his climax, the whole sedate conference broke into a spontaneous applause that shook the room, according to an item in Printer's Ink.
He had delivered the master oration of the conference. When finally the applause subsided, a cocky young Doctor of Divinity strolled up to him. "That was a masterly address you delivered extemporaneously. Yet you must have had some preparation to have done it so well. How long did it take you to prepare it?"
The older man looked gently for some time at the younger one before he answered. And then he said: "Sixty years, young man, sixty years!”
We are in the Holy Season of Advent and it is actually a time of hope and also a time for spiritual preparation for the coming of Our Lord not only at Christmas, which we celebrate every year, but also for His Second & Final Coming at the end of times. Let us then be always prepared to receive the Lord during this Christmas, or indeed whenever he comes.

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent, the emphasis begins to shift from the Lord’s final coming in glory to his coming in human flesh. Every year, on this day, as preparation for Christmas, the Church leads us on pilgrimage to the Jordan River, so that we might enroll in the school of John the Baptist, hear his message, and put it into action in our lives. At first glance, it seems like a strange choice to meet him at the Jordan, 30 years after Christ’s birth, millennia before his Second Coming. But the reason why the Church always visits John at the Jordan is because he was the one chosen by God the Father from all eternity to get His people ready to receive His Son, who was already walking toward the Jordan River to inaugurate his public ministry. The Gospel Reading of today from St. Mark presents John the Baptist as our model for Advent preparation; he is the precursor who announced the Lord's coming and who prepared the people by preaching them “the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Scripture Readings of today tell us about the concern of God He has for His people and at the same time admonish the people to prepare the way spiritually for the coming of the Lord. In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the Prophet consoles the people of Israel in exile and and assures them of the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. In this passage normally known as 'the poem of consolation', God shows how he cares for each person individually. In the Second Reading from his 2nd Letter, St. Peter speaks strongly against those who denied the Second Coming of Christ and says that 'the Day of the Lord' will come like a thief and the Lord will establish his Kingdom of truth, justice and peace in a new heaven and new earth. The Gospel Reading of today from St. Mark presents John the Baptist as the precursor of the birth of the Messiah. John the Baptist called all to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”. He proclaimed the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and announced the coming of Jesus who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. The preparatory work announced by John is the way we’re called to get ourselves ready to receive the Lord who is coming.

In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, which is normally known as 'The Poem of Consolation', the Prophet brings comforting words to the suffering Israelite people in exile, whose whole world was in disarray and hopelessness; people who had no comfort and security. In the midst of their mourning, he is able to say to the grieving city of God that God has not abandoned her or her children. Jerusalem is not to be cast down in mourning but to witness to the power and radiance of God. She is to clothe herself in the glory of God and proclaim that God is with her for ever. In a way, the passage summarizes the theology of exile. It gives reasons why there was exile at all. Of course it was not because of God’s lack of power, love and protection. Rather it was in response to people’s negligence of their faith in God, their sin. With Israel's endurance and atonement, the Lord uses the mouth of the Prophet to bring them comfort and hope, which they needed so badly and assures them of the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. But in spite of the fact that their sin is atoned for, the coming of the Messiah can only be meaningful if they made the conscious effort to welcome him namely putting away all evil or the works of darkness. So he says, “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God. Every valley shall be filled in, ...”
Again, not only is the Prophet to console them, he assures the Israelite people that the coming of the Lord will be characterized by subduing of nations under him. All sovereignty including those oppressing the Israelite people will be subdued. The vulnerable will have a place in his network of salvation. This is because he is like a shepherd king feeding his flock, gathering them against his breast. The shepherd king attribute of Christ is made clear again in that he will bring hope to the vulnerable.

The 2nd Letter of St. Peter, from which our Second Reading comes – with its reference to the 'Second Coming' of the Lord – is one of the last texts of the New Testament to be written. It reflects the mood of the early Church, as it comes to terms with the fact that they faced an indefinite wait before the Lord’s promised return. Just as the First Reading was a consolation to the Israelite people in exile, the Second Reading is a reminder that as we await the Lord, whether he comes early or not, we must not relapse into sin or take advantage of his delay to do evil. In this Reading, St. Peter shows us that, while we prepare the way of the Lord, three things are absolutely necessary to know and understand: First, the Lord is not slow about his promise of coming; He is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but to come to repentance. Second, 'the Day of the Lord' will come like a thief with the heavens set ablaze and dissolved, the elements melted with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it dissolved and new heavens a new earth will be created in which righteousness dwells. Third, leading lives of holiness as a way of hastening the coming of the Lord is an absolute necessity - since all things are going to be dissolved in this way. For this, you and I are expected to be found at peace with God, ourselves, and everyone. And God requires a response.

The Gospel Reading of today is the beginning of the Good News according to St. Mark. The opening verse - “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” sets the theme for his Gospel. This sets the stage for all that follows in the entire Gospel. St. Mark tells us that this is the beginning of the story of Jesus which commences with his life and his ministry but continues on to include our own times. That is the story he wants to tell, or rather, the good news he wants to proclaim, gradually unfolding identity of the man Jesus as 'the Son of God', which is ultimately pronounced by a pagan soldier at the foot of the cross saying, “He is truly the Son of God.”
The opening verse is also the profession of faith. These words fling us right into the middle of Jesus' cause for coming into the world. In the Gospel St. Mark tells us that the story of Jesus did not begin with his birth on earth but began in the mind of God from the beginning of times. Thus it shows us that the advent of Jesus must be understood as a part of God’s saving plan. God fulfilled the plan He had for us when creation began. He raised us to the dignity of divine son-ship by the incarnation and made us inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now, the First Reading provides the background for the Gospel Reading. John the Baptist emerges here as the immediate precursor of Jesus. “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you ….Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Mark attributes this prophecy to Isaiah but in fact it also combines phrases from the Exodus and the Prophet Malachi. By combining the Old Testament texts St. Mark shows that John the Baptist brings together the Old Testament tradition of promise for which Jesus is the fulfillment. As precursor, John prepares the people by calling them to reorient their lives and turn back to God. This is symbolized by the proclamation of “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist's preparation for the coming of Jesus was not aesthetic or physical beautification. He calls for a spiritual preparation. A spiritual preparation is crucial and important for the coming of the Messiah or Lord. The response of the people to this call of conversion is noteworthy. In Mark's description of John's ministry, he highlights the fact that the people confessed their sins in response to the Baptist's call to repentance.
Again, St. Mark describes John the Baptist's clothing and food in a way reminiscent of Elijah - “John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. He also wants the reader to make the connection between John the Baptist and Elijah, another great Old Testament prophet who called Israel to repentance and whose return it was popularly thought would usher in the Messianic Era. John does what Elijah did and he looks as if he is presenting the ways of Elijah. Actually, John's message was present not only in his words but also in his whole life. The man himself was the message. Through the simplicity of life and asceticism John gave his witness and as a result of his witness, people came to him, believed in him, and obeyed him.
Moreover, despite his seeming popularity, John the Baptist did not bank on it - he remained humble. He was so humble before the message of God that he became the message, the voice, of God the Father. He was aware of his role and the limits of his role. He knew who he was in relation to Jesus. He knew that his ministry was never about him, never about how good of a preacher he was to have been able to draw “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” to him in the waters of the Jordan River. It was only all about Jesus, whom he describes as “One mightier than I,” and he in his great humility would not even dare “stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Even Jesus' mission is mightier, for his baptism “with water” merely symbolized repentance from sin, but Jesus’ Baptism “with the Holy Spirit” actually effects what it symbolizes. It really and truly washes sins from the soul.
Finally, when we look at John the Baptist’s noble vocation, let's not think that he is merely an isolated figure stuck in history two thousand years ago. We too are John the Baptist of today.

Now, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,” is a common usage during the Advent season. It is an invitation to get ready to welcome the Lord. Through the liturgy of the 2nd Sunday of Advent, we are invited to tread the path of repentance and conversion. So, during this period of Advent when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord, what should our response be? We have to fill in the valleys that come from a shallow prayer life and a minimalistic way of living our faith. We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we've been walking: If we've been involved in some secret sins or in a sinful relationship, the Lord calls us through the challenging words of John the Baptist to end it; if we've been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we're called to straighten them out and do restitution; if we've been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to reconcile with others, now's the time to clear away all the debris; and if we've been pushing God off the side of the road, if we've been saying to Him that we don't really have the time for Him, now's the time to get our priorities straight. This Advent—which is a gift of the Lord to us, and who knows it may be our last—will succeed or fail on the basis of how well we convert and clear our lives of sin so that the Lord may come to us. And this is the Good News of today.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Homily - 1st Sunday of Advent (Year B)

1st Sunday of Advent (Year B)

First Reading: Isaiah 63b-17, 19b; 64:2-7 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Gospel Reading: Mark 13:33-37


Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent and it marks the beginning of a new Liturgical Year. This is actually Year B of St. Mark. We do not begin at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, however - that will come next week. The opening Gospel passage of this Sunday is taken from near the end of the Gospel - just before St. Mark begins the account of Jesus' passion.
In the literal sense, the word 'advent' means 'coming of someone,' and we wait for the coming of someone we love, but in the Christian liturgical sense it specifically implies to 'the coming of Christ.' and we eagerly and watchfully wait for the coming of Christ.
Now, considering 'the coming of Christ', we find that it is a mystery, for Christ has already come in the past about 2000 years ago, Christ still comes today in the sacraments – very specifically through the Eucharist, and Christ will come in future at the end of the world. Thus in a general sense, the Advent Liturgy, simultaneously evokes the past of salvation history, while promising its eschatological fulfillment in the future and rendering both past and future present in the today of salvation. Obviously, it is not surprising that we begin the new Liturgical Year this Sunday, with the same theme of 'the coming of Christ', where we ended it last Sunday.
Specifically speaking, we have about 4 weeks of Advent and the 4 Sundays of Advent are supposed to primarily prepare us for the celebration of Christmas, but they have an even more important preparation in mind viz. the readiness of each one of us for the 2nd & final coming of Christ at the end of the world; and this we do by means of our constant & active involvement through properly welcoming Christ, and receiving him in our hearts who comes to us today in sacraments.
Today’s Scripture Readings assure us that the Lord is coming. But an individual has to be alert and must be on watch. The First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah brings us face to face with a God who is Father and with the reality of our own sinfulness before Him. The Prophet Isaiah makes a prayer of yearning asking God to come and save us from sin. St. Paul in the Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the Corinthians stresses on the fidelity asking people to remain faithful to Jesus to the end. The Gospel Reading from St. Mark, invites all to a spiritual vigilance. We are told to be always watchful and ever alert so that the coming of the Lord does not find us unprepared, for no one knows the day or hour of his coming.

The First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah shines in the grace of God. The passage opens and closes by addressing God as our Father recalling the Exodus episode where God called Israel His first born. The Reading enriches the Advent liturgy with a somber mood of repentance. While this season of expectation is filled with joy, the preparation for the Lord’s coming necessarily calls for repentance.
Now, Isaiah is the Advent prophet - not least because he lived at a time of great longing for the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of God’s People. The people have begun to recognize that their Exile was a consequence of their failure to live with integrity and in the ways of the Lord. Their selfishness had shriveled them up like fallen leaves - their sin like the autumn wind scattering them. Now the longing is for a Messiah to come and gather His people and to bring them home. The words flow with passion and yearning. The Prophet Isaiah faces up to the wrongs that have been committed. He acknowledges Israel's sinfulness and their need for 'the potter's hand' to refashion them into a faithful people they were meant to be. He uses the imagery of the potter and the clay, a significant reminder that we are in the hands of a God who loves us, who took the clay of the earth, breathed life into us and shaped us. Being in the hands of the potter simply means to admit humbly that we are willing to place ourselves in the hands of God and let ourselves be led through what may sometimes be the painful process of being molded. The potter sees what the clay can become; the clay allows the potter to shape it to that end.

The Advent message in the Second Reading from St. Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians is very encouraging and optimistic. It fills them (and us) with hope as they (and we) wait in eager expectation for the ultimate revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Corinthians fully expected Jesus to return at any time - a belief they shared with all early Christians. Although they were already experiencing prejudice and persecution, they were strengthened by their conviction that it would not be long before Christ returned in glory and took them to their heavenly reward. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that the grace of God flows abundantly towards those who walk their living faith in Jesus Christ. Those who walk their living faith, they are enriched in Jesus Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind, not lacking in any spiritual gifts for the betterment of the Church. In union with Christ, the faithful are strengthened to the end of their worldly lives so that they will be blameless before God the Father on 'the day of the Lord.'

Today's Gospel Reading from St. Mark begins with a somber warning from Jesus to his disciples, which sets the theme for the season of Advent, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” And Jesus takes 'watching' very seriously. In the very short Gospel passage of today, Jesus tells four times 'to watch' – he is really hammering it home.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus illustrates the mystery of his future, his final coming in power & glory with a simple parable. Jesus while responding to his disciples did not get specific about time but his central teaching is that he will return in glory to usher in the end of the world. However, his summon is not filled with urgent anxiety. There is no call to fanatical behavior of any kind. If anything, Jesus encourages a calm seriousness placed within the context of realism. The fact is that only God knows when the final coming of Jesus will be and on the part of human persons it is necessary to be constantly vigilant. Whatever the signs or events human persons may say that they are pointing to the final end, they are mere speculations. The issue here is not whether the Lord will come again but to be prepared for his coming at all time.
Now, in the parable Jesus compares his final coming to a man traveling abroad who had placed his servants in charge of his house. The servants must do the work assigned to them, and the gatekeeper must be on constant watch awaiting the return of the master of the house. This, in a way, covers the two parables found in the Gospel of Matthew: 'the parable of the talents', when the servants were told to make productive use of what they had been given by their master, and 'the parable of the ten virgins', who had to be fully prepared and remain in readiness for the coming of the bridegroom.
Again, in Mark’s Gospel it is not the master (Matthew) nor the servants(Luke) who are charged with watching, but the gatekeeper (John), whose task it is to open only to the shepherd of the flock while turning away thieves and brigands. The gatekeeper is first of all St. Peter and his successor, and with him every pastor; their timely interventions are not a burden, but a boon. Ultimately, however, each individual must be the gatekeeper of his own soul: At the end of the parable Jesus instructs all his disciples to be constantly on the watch, “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
Moreover, Marks’ Gospel could be described as the bluntest of the Gospels! He makes his point in straightforward language - “Be watchful! Be alert!” - “Watch, therefore, you do not know when the lord of the house is coming” - “May he not find you sleeping.” This is not a Gospel offering tranquil and comfortable living. This is a Gospel that is urgent - challenging those who admire Jesus and who are impressed by what he says and does to take the extra step - into his footsteps and to follow the way of discipleship.
Today’s Gospel is speaking on the level of the future and present comings of Jesus. The key words placed before us are - “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” When Jesus warns us to not be asleep when he returns in his glory, this does not mean that we can never sleep... What is being referred to here is a sleep of the soul: we must avoid falling asleep spiritually. First, we must be careful not to fall into one grave sin or another, which would cause us to die spiritually, and thus to sleep with the sleep of spiritual death. Then, we must take care not to doze off: we must keep our soul in spiritual joy and chase away the deathly sadness of desolation. Focusing on readiness, living in the presence of the Lord at every moment of our lives, is the legacy of Jesus Christ to his followers.

Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” is the alarm sounding in the 1st Sunday of Advent. It means many different things, the most important of which is to seize the opportunities of the present moment, prepare for Christmas, prepare for death, yes, surely. But also, and more important, prepare for the Kingdom of God whenever it explodes into our lives. And, these are the words of someone who loves us, not of someone who is threatening us, but inviting us to happiness. We await the birth of Christ our Savior. He came to save us by showing us the way to happiness, to the God who loves us. We have nothing to fear from his words; they are words of hope, of promise, of dreams to be fulfilled, just like the true spirit of Christmas.
A bunch of navy men were returning from a long voyage in the seas and as the boat approached shore, the men were all looking for their wives and girlfriends on the shore ... eager to see them again! As the men looked over the crowd of women lined up, the air of excitement and expectancy grew. One man however was all alone as all the other men found their wives and girlfriends and they all embraced ... his wife wasn't there! Worried, he hurried home and found a light on in his house. As he entered he was relieved to see his wife, she quickly turned and said, "HONEY, I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!" His response showed his disappointment however, 'The other men’s wives and girlfriends were watching for them!' The difference between waiting and watching was only too clear!
The Gospel Reading of today teaches us that we are to be 'watching' for the return of Jesus, not just 'waiting' for it. Those who watch for it will keep themselves alert and self-controlled; those simply waiting may slip into sloppy business with other things and let their priorities slip! Are we just killing time 'waiting' for Jesus to return, or are we really making time productive while 'prayerfully watching' for his return? We are to understand the days in which we live. We have to be a sentry! We are to be on guard duty. We have to be alert at all times. We have to be watchful. So over these four weeks of Advent, let us watch with the Church for the Lord, that we may be better prepared to receive the Lord when he comes at Christmas, or indeed whenever he comes. And this is the Good News of today.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Homily - 34th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

34th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28 Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:31-46


A story is told of a priest assigned in a seminary who took his sabbatical year in Kolkata, India to work with Mother Teresa. Towards the end of his sabbatical, he wondered what he could take back to his seminarians. Thinking back, he remembered how Mother Teresa received Holy Communion: her eyes and face glowed with love for Jesus as she expressed the desire to give him back her love completely. For the priest, that was understandable for she was then already known as 'a living saint.' But what he could not understand was what he saw one evening when she was with a sick person. The same glow in her eyes and face was present when she was attending to him. Reflecting on these two experiences, the priest discovered why. For Mother Teresa, that sick person was Jesus himself for did he not say: “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me”.
Do we see Jesus' face in others, especially the poor, needy, marginalized, deprived, downtrodden, sick and suffering, and so on? Jesus meets us in their disguise. They are his true face.

Today is the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time and is  the Last Sunday of the Liturgical Year A. Next Sunday we will start a new Liturgical Year B with the First Sunday in Advent. As is the custom now, on this Last Sunday the Church solemnly celebrates the feast of “Christ the King”. It is one of the so-called 'idea feasts' that do not celebrate an event in the life of Jesus but rather some aspect of his identity. In it we recognize and honor Christ as ruler and universal shepherd. Also, this feast helps us to look towards our future and our ultimate future is, when Jesus will return in glory for the final judgment and award reward or punishment. Actually, this feast is, as it were a synthesis and culmination of the entire salvific mystery. The feast brings the Liturgical Year to a close. All during the past year, we have celebrated the mysteries of the life of the Lord. Now, we contemplate Christ in his glorified state as King of all creation and of our souls. So, the Feast of “Christ the King” is the occasion for us to give glory to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Today’s Scripture Readings revolve around the final judgment of Jesus Christ when he comes in glory and power. The First Reading from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel provides an image of God leading His people with the care of a shepherd. In the context of the passage, it is God Himself who vows to take personal responsibility for tending His sheep, because the entrusted shepherds have not been found worthy of their charge. God will come to tend to the sick and ailing sheep but will separate and punish those who have made themselves strong at the expense of the weak. In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth of the fact of the resurrection from the dead, just as Jesus Christ died and rose to life. Death, inherited from Adam, will itself be destroyed. Those who belong to Christ will form part of his Kingdom. In this Kingdom all will be subject to Christ the King. The Gospel Reading from St. Matthew speaks about the Last Judgment and presents Christ as the King coming in his heavenly glory to judge us. Each person will be distinguished as a sheep or a goat according to a simple standard of practical attention to those who suffer. The standard of judgment is simple enough, “whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me”. What may surprise us is Jesus' identification with the most insignificant.

Today's First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel makes reference to one of the most beloved images of God, namely, God as Shepherd. During the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel issued a scathing denunciation of the false shepherds who had led the people astray. In the section of this chapter of the Book of Ezekiel which precedes this reading, the prophet warns the leaders of the people, who serve as shepherds for the nation, that God will remove His sheep from their charge because they allowed the sheep to become prey to the wild animals and remain unfed while the leaders fed themselves. Now, in what must surely have been words that brought relief and hope to the exiles who were on the verge of despair, he delivers the Lord’s promise to return, to shepherd the people once again Himself. The mention of judgment adds an eschatological dimension that makes the text all the more fitting for this last day of the Liturgical Year. The choice of psalmody is obvious in light of Prophet Ezekiel’s use of the shepherd imagery. It sings of the Lord as the Good Shepherd who will feed, guide and protect His sheep. It is in the Lord that true goodness is to be found.

The Second Reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians underlines the cosmic character of Christ’s Kingship. Here St. Paul presents a powerful and awesome picture of Christ as Lord and King, to whom every other power and authority must eventually give way. He speaks of the all-encompassing authority of Jesus the King as a result of his resurrection: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The resurrection of Christ, “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” is the beginning of an entire harvest of risen people. This phenomenon of destruction of death and of being raised to new life is geared towards this cosmic goal: “so that God may be all in all.”
The Adam-Christ typology is an important part of Paul’s developing understanding of the importance of the resurrection for the believer, and especially how we participate in Christ’s resurrection through faith and baptism. Because death (sin) came through Adam and we are linked to Adam because of our human nature, it was necessary that the resurrection of the dead also come through a man, through Christ. This new life can only come through him, who through his own death and resurrection erased the stain of sin and triumphed over death. As a result of his resurrection, he now reigns as king. At the end of time, Christ, having brought all things under him, will himself be subjected to the one who drew all things to him. Christ rose. Christ reigns. Christ will come again in glory. We will rise. The Lord is fully and completely God forever. This we celebrate on today's Solemnity that draws the Sundays of the Liturgical Year to a close.

In today’s Gospel Reading from St Matthew we hear 'The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats', which is the third of the three eschatological parables in Ch 25. Jesus uses a parable about what we traditionally call the 'General Judgment' at 'the End of the World'. This parable is not a prediction of historical event in detail, however. It is a provocative challenge to the hearers to reflect upon the lives they live and to adjust so as to live ever more fully. This parable, like the previous two, challenges us to see and appreciate our daily lives fully aware of our eventual human death and future encounter with the God in who's image we are created.
Again, the judgment scene is unique to St. Matthew's gospel and forms the climactic conclusion to his Eschatological Discourse. Only here in all of the gospels does Jesus ascribe to himself the status of a king rendering judgment. Incidentally, this is not to be taken in too literal a sense. It is the meaning behind the scene which we are to focus on. It would be a worthless piece of speculation to imagine our encounter with God as taking place in any particular way analogous to life on earth. One wonders, too, if there is any real validity to the distinction sometimes made between the 'particular' and the 'general' judgments. The images of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with hosts of angels are typical biblical images pointing to God's awesome greatness and transcendence and are not descriptions of some visual experience we might have.
There will be two kinds of people coming for judgment, described respectively as “sheep” and “goats”, the good guys and the bad guys. And how are the good and the bad guys to be distinguished from each other? The criteria of that judgment are most striking: They are the simple acts of love and kindness directed to the 'least ones' of this world. The parable holds high the most humane virtues. The specific actions mentioned are (i) feeding the hungry, (ii) giving drink to the thirsty, (iii) clothing the naked, (iv) sheltering the homeless, (v) visiting those in prison, and (vi) taking care of the sick. Add (vii) burying the dead, and we have the traditional 'Seven Corporal Works of Mercy'. To have done these everyday works of goodness is to have touched Jesus himself; to have neglected to do them is to have neglected the needs of Christ, an omission worthy of condemnation. This implies that doing the works of goodness called for here is already to have gained access to the reign of God and to have chosen not to act in love is already a choice not to belong to God’s reign. Note that none of the above things Jesus mentions are religious in nature and also there is no mention whatever of any commandments being observed or violated; people are condemned not for doing actions which were morally wrong but for not doing anything at all.
It is quite obvious that both groups are very surprised at the criteria that Jesus presents. The 'sheep' are clearly very surprised to hear them say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom.” This is obviously not what they were expecting to hear. One gets the impression that they hardly remember doing these things although definitely they had done at least some of them. And certainly they do not remember ever doing anything of the kind for Jesus. “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?” Were they even more surprised at the answer they got? “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Then turning to the 'goats', whom he calls 'accursed', he condemns them for not doing any of the things he mentioned above and for not recognizing Jesus in the least brothers of his.

Today, we solemnly celebrate the feast of “Christ the King”. We must be on guard against taking this feast the wrong way. This is no nostalgia trip back to an age of royal prerogatives, court pageantry, and kingly alms-giving. This feast is not 'looking back' at all but 'forward' to something we have never seen. Actually, today’s solemnity is a reminder that the Kingship of Christ is not 'up there' but is very much tied or moored 'down here'. Moreover, the picture of the Judgment in the Gospel is not meant to fill us with fear and trembling. No, it is a challenge not about the future but about today. It makes us appreciate the ever-expanding expanse of his Kingship. So, if the Solemnity of Christ the King is to make sense, and that we ought to submit to the rule of Christ, then it is imperative that we understand how his Kingship is exercised. The sole criterion for judging our worthiness to inherit the glorious Kingdom is our exercise of love, especially on behalf of the poor and needy. Our compassionate hearts are our badge of belonging to God's Kingdom. Our corporal works of mercy indicate the divine power of love at work within us. We are thus judged not for the positions we hold in the community, our social status, academic records, wealth, heroic deeds, etc. Neither will we be judged by the number of prayers we say daily unless they lead us to greater love of God which in turn leads us to the service of the poor - “the least brothers of mine”, for Jesus not only hides behind these vulnerable people but identifies himself with them. To sum up, what we are told is that, if we wish to be counted among the sheep, then we must be an actively loving person, irrespective of the response we get to our love. This is the way God loves us. It is not enough just to fulfill obligations, religious or otherwise. It won’t do to say, 'I am a good enough Catholic'. Neglect of the needy in our circle, in our neighborhood, in our nation and in our world equates to neglect of the parable's king!
Now, for us who embrace the Gospel, the King is the Christ! Do we neglect him? How will we explain the lives we’ve lived and our use of the blessings we’ve been given? Would a just king genuinely rejoice in how we have lived in the past, do now live, and might yet live in the future? To gauge how well we are faring in this regard, let us answer this question right now: If Jesus comes as Judge right now, will he be able to say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom”? If not, then we still have a lot of work ahead of us. And this is the Good News of today.