Chapter 27: The Last Judgement
St John of the Cross said: “In the evening of our lives we will be judged on love.” God will not ask us how many diplomas we have earned, what works we have accomplished, or how many possessions we own. Instead, he will ask us how much love have we put into all our activities? How and whom did you love? And you, dear catechumen brother/sister, have you ever had to cope with need, illness or flight? Did anyone support you in this trial? Or did you help someone who was in such a situation of need?
The virtue of love requires us to translate our love for God in a concrete way in our lives. Between love of God and love of our neighbour, there is a similarity like a mirror image; in fact, they are the foundation of the Law and the Prophets. As for the image of the Christ as shepherd, king and judge, it expresses the absolute supremacy of God over history. He will come back and he will bring an end to the world when he thinks the time is right.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Last Judgement (Mt 25:31-46)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. 33 He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; 36 naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’ 37 Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; 39 sick or in prison and go to see you?’ 40 And the King will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’ 41 Next he will say to those on his left hand, ‘Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.’ 44 Then it will be their turn to ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?’ 45 Then he will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.’ 46 And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.”
2. 1- Explanation
Today’s Gospel marks the end of the of the Discourse on the Last Judgement and of the teachings of Jesus. This is the last scene of the world and is sometimes linked to the last three parables (conscientious steward, ten bridesmaids, and talents). The Last Judgement is synonymous with the three following expressions: The Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, the general judgement. Today’s Gospel mingles three images to express the Day of Judgement: the figure of the Son of Man who judges, that of the King sitting on the throne, and that of the Shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. It is all about the Second Coming of Christ for the purpose of judgement; his first coming was humble, laid in a manger, in order to bring salvation to the world; but, at the end of the day, at the end of times, he will return with all celestial majesty, accompanied by the angels, in order to take back his sheep and separate them from the goats.
The Blessed (vv.34-40) shall be judged by the King and inherit the Kingdom, based on their practice of the six acts of mercy. These acts will have been done for the King, for man was created in his image and whatever we do for any person we have done for Christ himself, whom we encounter in every one of our brethren. The Blessed shall ask: “When did we see you in need and came to your aid?” This question shows how the righteous never pay attention to the good they are doing, and their left hand knows nothing of the actions of their right hand. And this is, in fact, holiness, the practice of goodness without trumpeting it. Good is done in secret, and never done to seek Paradise or in fear of Hell. Good is done for the love of man and of God. The Blessed are the image of all saints.
The judgement of the damned (vv.41-45) comes in the same way: a decision, a test, a finding of the judge, and a question objecting to his opinion. Everything is reversed here: what was positive among the blessed has become negative with the damned. They do not recognise the “little ones” as the beloved of the Lord and his brethren. The Gospel describes the behaviour of the damned as “actions not done” but not “bad actions”. We will be judged, not only because of the sins we commit, but also because of the good that we should do to others, and that we have not done.
This kind of teaching pleases us if we are little, poor, strangers, and naked, for if we look at our reality with the eyes of faith, we discover ourselves to be like Christ. But if, on the contrary, our behaviour resembles that of the damned, let us be afraid, because the judge comes to question our consciences and demand to know the reason we have not welcomed or helped the poor, not considering them social and religious material that should be developed.
The final verse (v.46) speaks of two states: that of Heaven and that of Hell. The expressions are taken from the Bible and speaking of Heaven, are: life, Kingdom, light, the bridal feast, the father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, and what no eye can see (1Cor 2:9). Expressions that speak of Hell are: Gehenna, eternal torment, the place of crying and gnashing of teeth, outer darkness, and eternal fire. As for the state of Purgatory, we note its existence from certain scriptural verses such as Job 1:5; 2Macc 12:46; Mt 12:32; 1Cor 3:13.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The Last Judgement is based on God’s justice, which rewards everyone according to his deeds. Good deeds earn us eternal life, while bad deeds deserve eternal suffering. The Gospel of today adds that those who are idle and perform no good deeds also deserve suffering. St James says: “Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and doesn’t do it commits a sin” (James 4: 17). What good is someone who says he is a believer and does not act accordingly? Faith without deeds is dead.
The acts of mercy referred to in the passage are six in number: feed the hungry, refresh the thirsty, help the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and go to see the prisoner. The seventh act is whatever good act we make according to the different conditions of daily life. Judgement is not limited to the end of time. It is today and every day and, since humanity needs much help, let us help with love!
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Blessing of Love
Love One Another
The first pages of the Bible speak of God’s intentions when He created the Universe and Man and mention nothing of human history. The Book of Genesis speaks of the identity of the human being, of his vocation, and of what God wants from him. We learn that God created man in His image and likeness. How does man resemble God? The resemblance lies is his soul, not his appearance. The essence of God is love and man is called to fill his being with this love. In the New Testament, Jesus opens up for man the path of love, explaining to him what true humanity and true divine parentage are. Love is not simply a few good works to be done; it is more than that: it is a way of life that we grow accustomed to, with the aim of fully realizing our vocation. This is not just for Christians, but is a universal call to all men. But Christians, who have known Jesus Christ, have a duty to engage in love, following in the footsteps of Jesus, in order to live heroically the following words: “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:46, 44) … A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends… You are my friends, if you do what I command you (Jn 15:13-14)”.
Love is a term that is used with different meanings and settings and it is necessary to return to the words of Jesus to grasp the true meaning of the Commandment of Love. Surely love is something quite other than the desire that arouses emotions; it also does not simply mean friendship, even if that is something very noble, if it is lived in fidelity. Friendship is healthy, especially when lived with honesty, but love or charity (Greek agapé) knows no limits: Love goes even beyond anyone we know, have lived with, or with whom we have had relationships. Love, in the divine sense, is driven by the grace of God towards anyone we encounter, stranger or neighbour, caring for the poor before the rich, tender towards the weak and forgiving to the enemy. Jesus says: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Jesus loves us, sinners as we are, irrespective of our merit or good deeds. He died for us when we were still living in sin.
“This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away” (1 John 4:10). God is the source of love; when we welcome His gift and we begin to love one another, we are reborn as His children. It is possible that Christian love is demanding at the beginning and difficult, but we can become used to living this way if we commit ourselves to practising it every day, while at the same time helping ourselves through prayer and meditation on the Gospel, and by opening ourselves to the action of grace and God’s presence in our lives. Through our experience of God’s love for us, we are given strength to go out of ourselves and to love others.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from St Isaac the Syrian (7th century A.D.)
Only Love is Creative!
Do not attempt to differentiate between worthy and unworthy people! Treat them equally to be able to love and serve them and bring them over to goodness. The Lord dined with tax collectors and sinners and would not disdain the unworthy. In the same manner, do goodness and offer care for the heretic and murderer. Do not discriminate: They are brothers sharing human nature with you.
This is my advice to you, my son: In the balance, keep the bin of mercy heavier. You shall feel God’s mercy to the world in the depth of your heart.
When does man know that his heart has reached purity? When he finds that everyone around is good and no one is impure! For the heart of man is inherently pure. What is purity of the heart defined as? In short, it is pity of the heart towards the entire Universe. What is compassion of the heart? The flame draws the heart to every creature – human, animal, bird or devil. When a human being looks at any creature with deep and vivid compassion, his eyes are filled with tears and he cannot allow, hear or consider any harm or hurt towards any creature. Hence, prayer mingled with tears preserves and purifies unintelligent creatures, enemies of the truth and whoever resists it. This immeasurable compassion is generated in the heart of man, bringing him closer to God!29