Thirty-fourth Sunday, Year A.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King.
‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
A simple glass of water offered to a thirsty stranger, a visit to someone who is sick (COVID regulations permitting, of course!), these are all Christ asks of those who wish to be counted amongst his friends. It seems we expect greater things of the saints than Jesus does. But then, his judgement of humanity was always different to ours. He reached out in forgiveness to those who nailed his hands to the cross. We point the finger in accusation; he laid his healing hands on the sick, the blind and the lame. He looked for goodness in those whom society rejects, we look for faults in the popular or successful so that we can knock them off their pedestal. For Jesus one act of kindness saves a sinner, for us a saint who falls from grace through one misjudgement is forever condemned. We long for the wicked to get their just deserts, whilst Jesus says to the thief crucified alongside him: ‘This day, I promise you, you will be with me in paradise.’
Jesus told Pontius Pilate ‘My kingdom is not of this world. ’ Fortunately for us, his judgement of us is not that of this world either. If it were, we would all face being told ‘Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ We all of us have opportunities without number each to save ourselves from that fate. The kindly word or thoughtful deed, however simple, whether intentional or not, is all it takes. Think of a set of scales, where every good action helps tip the balance in favour of goodness over evil.
Perhaps you have had the experience of doing something good for someone without realising it? Several times over the years I have conducted a funeral for someone and, to my surprise, a card or letter has come through the letterbox a few days later thanking me for the funeral and for what I had said about their loved one. Often is was one of those funerals which are quite unremarkable in every way, where you do not think you have done anything special, yet something, a word or phrase perhaps, has touched someone present and made a difference. I cannot tell you how gratifying that is, to know you have helped somebody at such a difficult time in their lives. These occasions when we bring help or relief to someone unknowingly are important because they help us to see things in ourselves which others value and so show us how we can further help others in the future.
So it was with the first group of people in today’s Gospel. It was only when the stood before the King of kings and Lord of Lords to face the final judgement that they realised that little things they had done or said in their lives on earth had had far greater significance than they had realised at the time. Not only had they helped another human being, but they had done the same to the Lord. An act which took just a moment or two turned out to have eternal significance. They had thought they were just helping a neighbour (Jesus’ definition not ours) when they were actually ministering to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King.
What we should take from this is that every day we are dealing with the Lord, unseen, unheard but nonetheless ever-present. The shopping you do for a housebound friend or neighbour, the phone-call to some one who is lonely or isolated, the prayers offered for those who are sick or suffering have implications beyond there here and now.
In the Gospel Jesus says ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ He doesn’t say ‘I was wrongly imprisoned’, simply that he was imprisoned and you visited him. He makes not distinction between one prisoner and another. It is the deed which counts, the act of visiting, of giving your time and attention.
No doubt there are many more things all of us could do if we were more aware, more sensitive to others’ needs. As Christmas approaches once more, especially at the end of such a years as this one has been, we need reminding that it is not the giving of things which counts, but rather the giving of our time, our attention, our love and our care . In this way we will serve our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King. In the end, we are all of us judge by how we love.
Fr Philip Calvert.