34th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014 – Year A

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26
Matthew 25:31-46

Some years ago I went to visit an old aunt of mine. During the visit she pulled out a photo album with many old photos and she pointed at some of them and asked me – ‘who is that?’ I didn’t know. She replied ‘that was your father at the age of 8’. To another, and again I didn’t know. That was your Uncle Noel. Then to another and this one I did recognize. So some were easy to recognize, others were not.

In the gospel today we have something like that. Jesus tells one group of people in the judgement scene that even though they didn’t recognize Him in the others whom they helped, in reality as they helped the least as well as the others Jesus regarded the kind act as having been done to Himself. To the other group, because they never helped the other in need they judged themselves as being unworthy of eternal life.

On the road to Damascus, Saul, or St. Paul as he became known later, was on his way there to persecute the Christians. Jesus appeared to him and as Saul fell to the ground he heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are your persecuting me?” Not, why are you persecuting my followers? So Jesus clearly identifies what is being done to others as being done to himself, especially to the least of them.

Jesus’ preaching started in Matthew 5 – the Beatitudes – which were addressed to those who would follow him, reminding them (and us today) of what is essential to the conduct of his disciples. He reminded them often that his Kingdom is not a kingdom of power but of service. To illustrate the reality of this in a very dramatic way, he knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples, as he is prepared to do to us too. Imagine God kneeling before me washing my feet! But then, he asks me to do likewise to others.

As in the story I started with, it was easy for me to recognize the people in some of the photos but not others. It is like that with us, isn’t it? We can recognize Jesus easily in some, like those we get on well with; but others who hurt us, who live what we consider bad lives, poor people who make constant demands on us etc. It is much more difficult to see Jesus in them, isn’t it? At least, it is for me.

Jesus came and was very conscious of the need to go to the sinners, prostitutes, the lepers, the least in the society of his time. He led by example and in the end was probably executed for standing up to the rich and powerful of his day, whether they were religious or civil leaders.

So in today’s gospel, Jesus didn’t ask how many times the people went to the synagogue or how often they prayed. These are very good, of course, as they help us to get the strength to serve others. But do we do this? Will he ask us how many Masses we attended or rosaries said? We need to practise all this to get the strength and courage to serve others. At the end of Mass, we hear the words, ‘Go, the Mass is ended’. Go to do what?   Surely to be of service to others. If our Mass doesn’t lead us to this, then of what value is our going there? Maybe the others, the least, are members of my own family, someone close to me: a wayward son, a pregnant unmarried daughter, a drug addict, an unemployed friend in need, etc.? So today’s text is telling us that in serving the poor, we are serving Christ himself. Finally, we are reminded that eternal life begins now. We choose our future in eternity by how we treat others now. God won’t condemn us. We will have made our own decision depending on how we treat one another, especially the least ones. Paradoxically, the more we focus on helping others, the more happiness and peace we will have, starting right now and Jesus knew this, so that he was teaching us a powerful lesson. Focus on your own happiness and needs and you will never be happy, now or later. Focus on serving others as well as taking care of yourself and you will be happy and at peace now and in the life to come.

“Lord, thank you for reminding us in today’s gospel of the essentials, of what it means to be your disciple. You said once, ‘it is not those who say, Lord, Lord who will enter the kingdom of God but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’. This is far from easy, Lord. So please give us your powerful Holy Spirit to put this into practice now.”

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA