God the Judge… to Save

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau

Mt 25:31-46


The gospel passage today is a judgment scene, a literary genre used both in the Bible (cf. Dan 7) and in the rabbinic literature. The aim of this literary genre is not to inform about what will happen at the end of the world but to teach how to behave today.

If the passage is not read with the background of the literary technique used, we will end up finding a God who does not match the picture of the father that Jesus labored so hard to imprint upon his listeners. A God who ruthlessly condemns is a mismatch to the compassionate Lord who runs after the lost sheep. What message, then, does the story offer us?

Jesus wants to convey this message: the years of one’s life are precious, a treasure to be managed well. No one should go wrong because life is just one: Jesus suggests how one must live.

The list of people to be helped—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned—is similar to chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead found in Egypt since the second millennium B.C. They placed it with the deceased at the time of burial. The novelty brought by Jesus is that he identifies himself with these people: what is done to one of these little ones is done to him.

The values he suggests are not similar to those for which most people lose their heads, but they are what really count in the eyes of God. Who is the ideal, successful person in our society? The powerful, the rich, the affluent, and the celebrities who are wanted by the TV cameras. How does God think about a successful person? At the conclusion of the story of our life, when each one is alone with oneself and with God, only love will be precious. The life of each one will be considered a success or failure according to the commitment of the person in the elimination of six situations of suffering and poverty: hunger, thirst, exile, nakedness, sickness, and imprisonment.

A detail is carefully highlighted in the story: none of those who have done these works of mercy has realized having done them to Christ. Love is true only if it is disinterested, even if it is free of any suspicion of complacency; whoever acts in view of the reward, even that of heaven, does not yet genuinely love.

And the sentence pronounced indicates with strong images the very serious danger of wasting one’s life. The judgment is to make us think, to open our eyes, to show God’s judgment on the decisions we make today.

Hell exists, but it is not a place created by God to punish bad people at the end of life. It is a condition of unhappiness and despair resulting from sin. The question, therefore, is not who will be counted as sheep and goats at the end of the world, but on what occasions today do we behave as sheep or as goats? We are sheep when we love our sisters and brothers; we are goats when we neglect them.

Indebted to Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ