The Sunday of the Righteous and the Just and the Judgement of Nations
The Sunday of the ‘Righteous and Just’ reminds us of our call to holiness. God invites every Christian to lead a holy life. In this week, we recall all the people who have led a holy life and are now enjoying everlasting glory with God in the heavenly kingdom. We are reminded that the saints in heaven participate in the glory of the resurrection of our Lord and we can as well.
The Righteous and the Just are all the saints who are in heaven and they are our models. They could be our parents, relatives, and friends. Some saints have been pronounced saints officially by the Church after their death. The canonisation process is a later addition in the Church. All those in heaven are saints and they can intercede for us in heaven.
The Gospel for this Sunday is Matthew 25:31-46. It is the parable of the sheep and the goats. We often hear about people who have ‘near death experiences’. But in fact this Gospel is a window from Christ himself of what judgement is like. We don’t have to look so far as to ‘private revelations’ about what judgement is like. Here, we are told both of the criteria of judgement and the outcome. It is simple, when Christ comes he will judge us on our love.
“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’”
Jesus reminds us:
‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
Christian love requires us to see Christ in everyone, no matter who they are. Each of us must find how to to live God’s love in our own life.
As well as setting out how we will be judged and the criteria, the Gospel warns us about the possible outcomes of judgement. There will be a separation of the righteous sheep from the unrighteous goats. We are not saved by faith alone, but also by our works. The Gospel inspires us to prepare, so that when the time comes, we may be counted amongst the sheep on God’s right hand and inherit his kingdom.
The Gospel is preparing us for Great Lent, drawing our focus on death, judgement, and the final destiny of our soul and of humankind. Great Lent is a preparation for the second coming of the Saviour. We are being reminded to take heed of how we live now, because each moment counts towards our judgement and we will be asked about it. We need to examine ourselves in this lead up to Great Lent and look for those things causing us to fall short of God’s love, so that we can make a genuine change. We are being reminded that each day and each hour counts.
There is also a wider dimension to this Gospel which is the “Judgement of Nations”. As well as asking us to consider our individual responsibility, we must also consider our collective responsibility to humankind.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
Throughout, the Old Testament we see passing of judgment on nations. The world is destroyed by a flood, Israel is rescued from Egypt, God’s people are sent to Babylon and brought out.
We are being reminded of our collective responsibility as nations, as a Church and as a world to consider how we deal with the weak and oppressed. We can assess our nations and our Church against the criteria of the Gospel. We can look at the worlds slums, refugees, minorities and the poor.
Nations are made up of individuals. Individuals can speak up and insist that the hungry have food. Individuals can insist that refugees and strangers are welcomes. Individuals can ensure that children are being clothed, educated and housed. Individuals can insist on prisoners being treated in a humane way.
The parable should not make us despair about the state of the world. Within our own circles we can make a difference. Many of the canonised Maronite saints did small things which have had a huge impact after their death. St Charbel and St Rafqa are examples of the love of Christ and have inspired many back to God. They have been a blessing to the Maronite spiritual nation. Jesus notices what we have done, and makes us a blessing to our nation even in the smallest things. The simplest example that Mother Teresa of Calcutta gave was to wash up a plate. Wash it not because it is dirty or because you have to, wash it because you love the person who will use it next.
As a Church congregation we should be encouraging one another in doing this, and by working together the blessings are multiplied. What you do in your own Parish, your own country and your world, no matter how small you think it might be, can make a bigger impact than you imagine. In the words of the magnificent Psalm: “The righteous will flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” The cedar of Lebanon grow majestic, wide and strong. It stands out and makes an impact. We too can grow in that image.
Let us end by reflecting on the life of another Maronite whose extraordinary work can inspire us. Blessed Yacoub El Capuchi (Jacob the Capuchin) was a missionary and preacher and undertook construction of homes for the elderly, beggars, orphans and ageing priests. He set up health centres hospitals and nursing homes. He dedicated his life to doing good. He worked for the dignity of all people, especially the poor, without distinctions based on religious belief. He became an example of dialogue and ecumenism based on the love of Christ. His Christian and religious witness became an example not only for the Maronite Church and the people of Lebanon, but for the whole Church.