One fall morning a young boy was walking home from Sunday school class, thinking about that day’s lesson—which happened to be on the Last Judgment, as described in the Gospel passage we just heard. He was very impressed with his teacher’s statement that when we give something to another person, we’re actually giving it to Jesus. As the boy walked through a city park as a shortcut, he noticed an old woman sitting on a park bench; she looked lonely and hungry, so the boy sat down next to her. He’d been saving a chocolate bar for later, but he took it out of his pocket, broke off a piece, and without saying a word, handed it to her. She accepted it with a smile, and the boy liked her smile so much that he gave her another piece when she finished the first one, while taking the last piece for himself. They sat in silence for a while, smiling at each other; then the boy got up to leave. After a few steps, however, he suddenly turned around, ran back to the woman and hugged her, and she gave him her very best smile. When the boy arrived home with a huge smile on his face, his mother asked, “What made you so happy today?” He answered, “I shared my chocolate bar with Jesus today—and she has a great smile.” Meanwhile, the old woman returned to the small apartment where she lived with her sister, who remarked, “You’re all smiles—what made you so happy today?” The woman answered, “I was sitting in the park, eating a chocolate bar with Jesus—and you know, He looks a lot younger than I expected” (Bausch, A World of Stories, p. 297). Our Christian faith calls us to see Jesus, and to be Jesus—and if we make an honest effort to do this, we can look forward to seeing Him on the day of divine judgment.
At the end of the world, everyone who’s ever lived—good and bad alike—will have no choice but to acknowledge the existence of God and the universal authority of Jesus; St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:20-26, 28) that Christ will have destroyed every spiritual sovereignty and every worldly authority and power, so that all things may be subject to the Kingdom of His Father. This great triumph will not belong to Jesus alone, however, for it is God’s plan that His children come to share both in His royal dignity and in His eternal victory. Both in this life and in the life to come, the Lord intimately and personally identifies Himself with His people. Through the prophet Ezekiel (34:11-12, 15-17), God promises that He Himself will shepherd His sheep, seeking out the lost, binding up the injured, and healing the sick. In the Gospel Jesus takes this image a step further, stating that we are not to be mere passive recipients in this process, sitting back and letting God care for us; we must also be active participants, seeking out and serving the needy and lowly in God’s Name. This, Our Lord tells us, will be the basis of judgment: whether or not we responded with compassion to those who suffer. If we look into the eyes of someone in need and can see Jesus in that person, and act accordingly, then when we die and encounter Our Lord and Judge, He’ll be able to look into our eyes and see His own image there—and this will assure us a place in His Kingdom.
One winter at an orphanage in Germany during the difficult years of the Great Depression, the directress—a devout Christian—said the grace before the evening meal in her usual way, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus, and be our Guest tonight, and bless the gifts You have provided.” One of the orphans asked, “Ma’am, you always invite the Lord Jesus, but He never comes. Will He ever arrive?” “Oh, yes,” she answered; “if you keep on believing and hoping, He will surely come.” “Then,” said the boy, “I will set a chair for Him beside me here tonight to be ready for His coming.” A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. It turned out to be a poor, half-frozen man. The directress and her staff welcomed him with compassion and took him over by the fireplace to warm himself; then they invited him to join in their simple meal. He happened to sit down in the empty chair next to the boy, who thought to himself, “Now I understand! Jesus could not come Himself, so He sent this poor man in His place” (Tonne, Stories for Sermons, Vol. 2, #215).
Two different stories about two different boys, both of whom were sensitive and compassionate, help us understand the simple but vitally important truth expressed by Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel (Mt 25:31-46). Today, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, is observed as the Solemnity of Christ the King, and we could talk about the theological, sociological, and historical implications of Christ’s Kingship: what it consists of, how our current political and economic systems fall far short of it, what a society based in conformity to it would look like, and so on. However, there’s little need or purpose to such an abstract or theoretical discussion. What really matters is whether we want to have Jesus as our King, and whether we’re willing to show this by the way we treat others. If we take our faith seriously by noticing and responding to the suffering of others, sharing our blessings in a spirit of generosity, and doing what we can to make life a little easier for someone worse off than ourselves whenever we’re given the opportunity, then we’re showing that we understand what it means to live as loyal subjects of such a wonderful King, we’re serving as His ambassadors of kindness and grace, and we’re expressing our genuine desire to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Every day of our lives we’re given the chance to see Jesus, and to let others see Jesus in us—and if we do, on the final day of history we’ll see Him smile at us and hear Him say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”