This Gospel passage we just heard is one of my favorite passages from Scripture. And it’s also one of the most challenging. We know from today's gospel what that final judgment question is going to be: "What have you done for the least of your brothers and sisters?" He's not going to ask: "How often did you pray? Did you go to Mass every Sunday? Did you read the Bible?" It's not because these things aren't important; they are. They help us to sustain and grow in our faith and grow closer to Christ; they help us face the challenges of living in a world where sin and suffering are very real.
What Jesus is telling us in His graphic description of the Last Judgment is that while these are all good and important parts of our relationship with God, the key element of that relationship has to be our love and concern for the "least" among us – the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, the lonely, the outcasts of the world. When we love them, we are loving God. It is by this that we will be judged. His words couldn't be any more clear. There's no way we can miss His point.
It’s interesting that in today’s parable neither the sheep nor the goats were aware of the presence of God around them. They both asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger?” One of the problems of grabbing hold of this parable of the sheep and the goats is not that it is unclear. Nor is it that we are unwilling to love Jesus in all these poor and unfortunate people. Rather, it is that we do not have to face these issues every day. Crime and hunger and thirst and nakedness rarely touch us here in Lake Township; they are not part of our ordinary lives. Who do we know that is in prison? Who do we know that is starving to death? Who do we know that is naked? Who do we know that is a stranger?
We are not in Chicago where the poor live in the streets; we do not live in India where the hungry beg at the door; we are not in the Congo where refugees are fleeing for their lives. And on the occasions when we do meet situations of need, we often do something about it, don’t we? Many of you bring Fish bags to church on a regular basis or take tags from the Giving Tree, though rarely do we actually meet the people in need. Some of our adults and young people go on mission trips (before the pandemic) to New York City and Kentucky, and for one week rub shoulders with the poor and needy and hungry. Some of you help out at the Migrant Center, cleaning, painting and providing food. We visit those we know are sick; we give money to the missions to look after those in other countries who are suffering. So what more can we do? That is a very good question. We are people who try to care. But the question remains – can we do more. What will Jesus think of our efforts when we are at that judgment door?
I like to think that no one wants to be a goat. I like to think that we all want to do the right thing. But do we try hard enough to do so? Or do we let our judgments about other people blind us to the fact that Jesus is here in our community right now, that he is here, and that he is in need? Jesus is here. He lives near us; he lives in those whom we forget and in those whom we dismiss as unimportant or as deserving of their fate.
If you love Jesus, the Shepherd King, if you would be one of his people, one who does the right thing by him, if you really want to care, then you will look carefully for him, you will look for him not in heaven but right here on earth, here in our midst. We will all have our turn at the judgment gate. When that happens, will you be one of the sheep or one of the goats?
If you have a brief faith reflection on today’s reading that you would like to share, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.