Recently, I attended the funeral of a man. A funeral is always a sad thing but this one was worse than usual. Very few people were there. I looked at the wife, the two sons and the three daughters: no sign of sorrow, only hardened faces. As I walked back listening to a neighbour I understood. “That man’s going is a relief to everybody, he caused so much suffering – beating his wife and children, cheating everyone. He never had a kind word. He never bothered to help anybody and quarrelled with all around. Surely nobody will miss him.”
Is it not something terrible: to die and to have nobody to regret that we are gone? Nobody sorry of our passing away. In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus telling again a story. There, we meet two groups of people and both groups are very surprised at what happens to them. It is the end of the world and the time for the last judgement – the time when all come before God and the story of their lives unfolds before them.
The people of the first group are praised and welcomed by God. Those of the second group are blamed and condemned. What have they done? Did you notice that nothing is said of any wrong they did? Jesus does not mention that they failed to observe any of the commandments. Their ONE fault is to have failed to do something. Jesus’ words are really amazing: “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, I was a stranger, sick, in prison and you never did anything for me.” In good faith those people asked: “Lord, when did we see you?” 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’.”
These words give us much to think about, do they not? In fact, these people have been their own judge. It is not so much the words of the Lord that condemn them but their own life. A life where there was no place for other people. No thought for those in need. No concern about the suffering and the sorrowful. Where have they failed? They have failed to see the needs of others and... they have missed Jesus! You may think: ‘How is this possible, to miss Jesus? If I met him, I would surely recognize him!’
If we saw him dressed as he is in the pictures of some Bible books, walking on the roads of his country, Palestine – perhaps we would recognize him. But when he comes to us as a cripple boy, or an old woman begging for food, or a paralysed man in his chair, or a young man just out of prison and looking for work – then, do we recognize in those people Jesus, our Lord? At such times, it is not easy to see his face behind theirs, to hear his voice in their words, to recognise their request as his. And yet, this is exactly what will make OUR judgement: did we, or did we not, do something to help him?
At times, we would like someone to come back from the other world and tell us what will happen at the end of our life. If only we were told the right thing to say then, or the proper way to stand or bow, perhaps we would not be so anxious at the moment of death. Only one thing we need to know: “the kingdom prepared before the foundation of the world” becomes ours from day to day as we recognise Jesus.