Jesus: a King Who creates life

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory (ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ, en the doxe autou), and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, panta ta ethne) will be assembled before him. And he will separate (ἀφορίσει, aphorisei) them one from another, as a shepherd separates (ἀφορίζει, aphorizei) the sheep from the goats.”
(Matthew 25:31-32.)

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

For the past few weeks, we have heard about kings, masters, landowners and grooms going, coming and definitely delayed. We have listened to accounts urging particular mindsets and behaviors while awaiting the master’s return. As we gather this Sunday under the aegis of Jesus Christ our Savior King, the goings, comings and delays cease. The Son of Man, gloriously enthroned with His angels upon His return, initiates a particular work triggered by his return that is popularly known as the ‘Last Judgment.’ A close reading of the Sacred Text, however, finds no mention of the word judgment, only the word separate. Judgment or ‘Last Judgment’ certainly does no harm to the salvific truth of this last discourse in the Matthean Gospel. But in a world that has grown inordinately hypersensitive to the word judgment, there is a risk of casually dismissing the insight of this Gospel episode.

Along these lines, it is important not to miss the imperative that Jesus sounds when it comes to alleviating the burden(s) that a fellow person carries. In this teaching, how one responds to a person in need is the fulcrum point of salvation, hence the imperatives: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill and visit the imprisoned are the actions on which salvation is balanced and ultimately hinged. True, actions of feeding, slaking, clothing, caring and visiting were concrete expressions of hospitality in the Ancient Near East. More than simply a ‘nice sentiment,’ hospitality was a virtue upon which life itself flourished or decayed to the point of death. In a world where water, food, clothing (protection) and connections with other were not guaranteed, the generously hospitable offer of these staples became a matter of life triumphing over death (see Genesis 18:1-15). The fact that humans literally hold the life of another human in one’s hand is an awesome responsibility. Jesus’ audience – both Jew and Gentile (hence the assembly of “all the nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη)”) – would have known this message. This is, what one might call, a universal ethic. No matter what one believes/doesn’t believes, practices/doesn’t practice; no matter what one’s worldview is: EVERYONE (whether one believes it or not) will have to give an accounting for how one tended to the needs of her or his sister or brother. Feeding, slaking, clothing, welcoming, caring and visiting are not actions for a select few. All – by virtue of being human – MUST do these corporal works of mercy.

So what happens when a person or a community feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger, cares for the ill and visits the imprisoned? In the end, he or she is separated. The work of feeding, etc. puts one in a ‘different place’ because the work of separation is essentially rooted in Creation. Separation in this context is a Divine work that breathes and brings forth life. It is the complement to God creating from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). The Greek verb to separate (ἀφορίζω, aphorizo) is not a dividing in an evil or diabolic way. This verb describes the action of establishing boundaries in the created order so that life in the created order may flourish. Sometimes, the separating is between goods (e.g. in Genesis 1:7, separating water above the dome from water below). Other times, as in this Sunday’s Gospel, the separating is between actions that enable life from actions (or lack thereof) that cause death. Either way, separating – particularly in the end – is about life.

One may conclude therefore that if separating is about life and ultimately the Life given by the Creator, then the actions connected to separating are creative as well. Omitting this work from one’s life, puts one in another place – a place of no creation, a place of no life, a place of death. Thus feeding, slaking, clothing, welcoming, caring and visiting are creative actions and ways in which humanity now participates in God the Father’s ongoing plan of creation that looks to the saving fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Engaging with Jesus in these works “places” or puts one on the side of life; a life that ultimately is a loving and eternal communion with Father, Son, Holy Spirit and all the holy ones.

Almighty ever-living God,
Whose will is to restore all things
in Your beloved Son,
the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render Your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim Your praise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen