What will make the difference at the Last Judgment

What will make the difference at the Last Judgment

Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A (Matt 25:31-46)
November 26, 2017
By Fr. Sal Putzu, SDB

A PERSONAL judgment at the end of life and a universal judgment at the end of time come as no surprise. Man was created free but also “accountable.” Everyone will have to account to the Eternal Judge for the way he/she has used His gifts and opportunities.

The “personal judgment” takes place as soon as one dies. This judgment is the most obvious because everyone is accountable for one’s behavior and must receive the deserved reward or punishment. But since we are all linked in a web of communion and solidarity, it is also appropriate that each human being should know the effect of the behavior of everyone on all others, whether for good or bad. The Universal Judgment will bring to everyone’s knowledge everybody’s deeds and their effects. This also is fair and proper for during our earthly life our knowledge is very limited in many ways.

However, what comes as a surprise in the dramatized account of the Last Judgment presented by Jesus is the “limited scope” of accountability. Though granting that the instances mentioned by the Judge are not exhaustive, the fact remains that they are all and only about our attitudes/actions toward people. Not a single question about our attitude toward God.

This is surprising indeed for—after all—wasn’t Jesus himself who stated that the greatest commandment is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind? (See Mt 22:37-38.) And was he not the one who taught his disciples to pray, and who wanted them to pray at all times? (See Lk 18:1.) He himself spent hours in prayer. (See Mt 6:9 and Lk 6:12.)  And yet, today, we seem to learn from him that what will matter in the end will be only the way we treat our neighbor, especially the needy! Only the second set of commandments seems to hold . . . .

Reflecting further, however, the surprise ceases. Actually, we find that it could not be otherwise. With the Incarnation, God has become a brother to every human being. It is not just a matter of proximity and relation, but a matter of effective identification. We have to see, love and serve God in our neighbor. As Jesus himself states in today’s Gospel, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me!” (See Mt 25:40.)

The Last Judgment is the mystery of the Incarnation brought to its utmost practical consequences. It is not that God and our love for Him have been “left out.” They are “in,” and in the most concrete and challenging manner, embedded as they are in the very people that we usually avoid: the hungry, the sick, the unpleasant, the convicts . . . . These are some of the categories of people in whom it is so difficult to see Christ, the all-holy God-man.

To see and serve Christ in them demands not only mercy and generosity, but also an immense faith. The Final Judgment will be a judgment on our practical acceptance of the Word who became “flesh,” a judgment on our “Yes” to the God steeped not only in our nature, but even in our very needs.