Sunday November 24, 2002
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
The Last Krisis
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon his throne in glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, and a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today’s well known Gospel passage concludes a series of parables by Jesus in Saint Matthew just before the beginning of the Passion. However, it is not quite right to call our passage today a parable of the Kingdom as it is to say it is a description of the Last Judgment. Since this Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Feast of Christ the King, concludes another Christian Year, and next week Advent Sunday begins another year of grace, it is fitting to examine a few items in Christ’s description of how we will be judged.
The word, judgment, in the New Testament is krisis, the Greek root of our own word, crisis. Associated New Testament Greek words are also rich in meaning. Kriterion is the means of judgment. Kritikos, the root of critic, is one who is able to judge.¹ A crisis exposes and clarifies things, which the Last Judgment, the last crisis if you will, most certainly will do. As Christ said, it will involve a separation once for all of the good from the evil. This separating is not simply a division between individuals but a winnowing and cleansing within, a fire which refines gold and consumes the dross.
It is noteworthy that Jesus uses the term “Son of man” to name the Kritikos or King sitting in judgment. It is not the Father but rather the Son, more particularly the Son in his triumphant human nature, who judges. Shortly before his Passion, Jesus said these words in Saint John’s Gospel: “Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to Have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming when those who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have evil to the resurrection of condemnation.” (Jn 5:25-29)
We shall be judged by the Son of man, because he has been tested and tried in every way as we are, yet without sinning. This is good news; it means the one who took our nature upon himself to save human life is the one who will also judge human life. The mission of the Son of man was foreseen ages before his incarnation in our lesson today from Ezekiel, one of many such prophecies. “I will seek that which was lost…and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. And as for you, O my flock…Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he-goats.” (Ezekiel 34:11-17)
The kriterion, or instrument and means of judgment from the Son of man is a simple question: How have we, his brothers and sisters in the flesh, made use of the time and opportunities given us to love and serve one another, especially those he calls “the least of these”? To be specific, what have I done to minister to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned?
In reflecting on these simple conditions, which most certainly begin with the literal physical situation, we do well to consider how Jesus had a way of adding dimensions. There are many ways to be hungry and thirsty, to be a stranger, to be naked, sick or imprisoned. Love recognizes this. For example, when Jesus said that the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God and would thereby live, he did not just mean that he would call dead Lazarus out of his tomb back into life. He meant he would call people from a way of living that was for all intents and purposes a life of death – raise them into life with purpose, joy and hope. He meant he would, in the end, raise all the dead out of their graves to stand before him on the Last Day to see what, if any, gracious good use they had made of the life they were given while they were on earth.
Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment in both Matthew and John about doing good does not contradict his teaching that we are saved by faith in the name of the Son of God. It simply means that faith, if it is alive, necessarily expresses itself in love. I cannot say “I love God” and then not show love to my neighbor. “Not every one who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The will of the Father is love; indeed, God is love. So we pray at the end of every Eucharist, “We humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”
The question at the Last Judgment is: Did you do those good works that I prepared you to do?
The devils believe, but they hate God’s goodness. Faith without good works is dead.
By taking our nature, living human life as it was created to be lived, reaching out to us in love and mercy, speaking stern judgment to the selfish, the proud and the unkind, Jesus as the Son of man clearly identifies with us in our need, especially with those most in need, the “least of these,” the “little ones.” In doing this, he takes personally our works of love on the one hand, or our unkindness on the other. If we do it to the least, we do it, so far as Jesus is concerned, to him; if we neglect the least, we neglect him.
Saint Martin of Tours, when he was a Roman soldier preparing for Christian Baptism, was approached on a bitterly cold day by a poor man who asked him for alms in the name of Christ. Drawing his sword, Martin cut off part of his military cloak and gave it to the beggar. Some bystanders laughed at Martin’s now odd appearance; others were ashamed at not relieving the poor man’s misery. That night, Jesus appeared to Martin clothed in half a cloak, and said to him, “Martin…covered me with this garment.”²
These are the daily works which God’s grace has prepared for us to walk in. It is quite a trip -- a pilgrimage, an adventure in providence. You can start a day full of plans, and find that God has quite different plans in store. But that is all right. Walk in his ways, and all will be well. The true duties of the day will be done.
When you come to the end of your pilgrimage, your adventure in grace, you will find that the King, when he judges your use of the time and talents he has given you, was with you all along. Love was faith’s true expression from the beginning. Love is the judge in the Last Judgment. Love is the criterion. Love is the last word from Christ the King: “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
¹Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abridged in one volume, p. 469
²Lesser Feasts and Fasts, p. 372; Leonard Foley, Saint of the Day, p. 298.