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When the Son of Man comes as King at the end of the world he will judge the nations according to their works
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 26, 2023
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17, Psalm 22 (23), 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28, Matthew 25:31-46


Biblical citations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:36-46).

 

 

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, which focuses on his final coming at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead. Today’s gospel shows us the criteria that Christ will use to judge all those who profess to be Christians. We can see that this is the judgment of professing Christians, because both the good and the wicked will ask when did they see Christ hungry or thirsty and give or not give him food or drink etc. Christ’s criteria for judging will be our deeds and actions.

 

 

This does not mean that we are saved by works, for it is clear from the New Testament that salvation comes by faith, not by works of the law. It comes by faith in Christ, because Christ died in vicarious punishment for our sins so that all who put their faith in him will be considered to have their sins thoroughly and fully punished in Christ’s flesh on the cross, and therefore will not be punished themselves in hell forever for their sins, but will be saved. Therefore we are saved by faith, not by works.

 

 

But faith shows itself visibly in good works. And if it doesn’t, the person either does not have true saving faith, or if he had it, he lost it. So the final judgment will be made on visible evidence that we have or do not have true justifying faith, and this evidence will be our good works that show whether we lived for others or for ourselves. If we have faith in Christ and devote our lives to others, to benefiting them by our life and work, then the works that we do to benefit others will be what we are judged on. On this basis we will be judged that we have saving faith and so will inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

 

 

So the key to our being judged in either a positive or negative way will be whether or not we put our faith into action in a life of service of others rather than living for ourselves. In today’s gospel Jesus mentions many different types of service of others, such as feeding the hungry and giving the thirsty a drink. These are all things that would be appropriate to mention that in doing them for the least of his brethren we do them for Christ.

 

 

The more spiritual works of mercy cannot be mentioned in this gospel because they don’t fit the pattern of the parable. Jesus can’t say, “I was ignorant, and you instructed me; I was in error, and you recalled me to the truth; I was in sin, and you brought me to repentance” (Joseph Benson, 1749-1821).

 

 

This list of various works of mercy mentioned in today’s gospel is not meant as a complete and exhaustive list so we should feel guilty if our particular specialty or work of mercy is not mentioned here. We can include other works that would be inappropriate to say about Christ, like you preached good sermons that turned me away from the sinful path I was pursuing, or you preached about repentance to gain eternal life and turned me away from seeking pleasure in sinful deeds, or you are a teacher and taught me theology and explained to me how a Christian should live and what he should believe. These are all good and acceptable works to be judged by but do not fit the pattern of comparing them to works done for Christ, for Christ was not a sinner who needed to be brought to repentance.

 

 

It is also true that one person can’t do all of these things plus the spiritual works of mercy and do them in a good and professional way. He has limited time, limited energy, limited ability, limited talents, and limited knowledge, and so in our day we specialize. We have Sunday school teachers and catechism teachers who devote themselves to the children in the parish. We have those in the ministry of helping the poor and do this in the name of the whole parish. We have the priest who devotes himself to preaching good sermons, celebrating the Eucharist, and teaching new catechumens. But all this is done under the auspices of the local parish and under the ultimate control of the pastor, even though the pastor himself does not actually do all of these things. They are done in his name and in the name of the parish.

 

 

So when reading this gospel we should not feel guilty if what we do is not listed here, and we shouldn’t think that we should leave aside what we are doing and rather dedicate ourselves to one of the works of mercy listed in today’s gospel. These are simply illustrations that are appropriate for both helping poor people and Christ in these people.

 

 

So we can see from this gospel that our salvation will depend upon our deeds and not only our words. It will depend on what we practice as well as what we profess. These works of course will not justify us, but they are evidence that we have justifying and saving faith. But if we don’t do these or similar works, then our faith is either dead or nonexistent, and we are not saved. So we must do something. Our faith that saves us must do something for others, and if it doesn’t, it is dead faith.

 

 

At this point in my life the main thing I do is write sermons, put them on my website, advertise them on Google, and send them out to subscribers by bulk email. This takes a lot of my time. It is not a deed that is mentioned in today’s gospel as one of the things that we should do. But it is a deed whereby I can live for others rather than for myself.

 

 

Finally we note that the punishment of the wicked is not just temporary, but rather eternal. As we believe that the good will inherit eternal life so we believe that the wicked will inherit eternal punishment. The word is punishment, not annihilation as some suppose. The wicked will not be annihilated, but will live and be punished forever.

 

 

The same word “forever” is used for both the wicked and the righteous. So if the righteous have eternal life, the wicked have eternal punishment. The key verse here is the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:26).

 

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