Faith is active care for others, not just belief
Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the feast of Christ the King. This is an opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the year ahead.
"Whatever you did for the least, you did for me" (Mt 25:40).
Do you look for God in all people?
Do you treat people who look differently than you as you would Christ?
What can you do to live out your faith through service?
Today’s Gospel is a culmination of themes that we have read in Matthew over the past few months: ethical actions, final judgment, rewards and punishments. Jesus shares a vision of the final judgment, describing himself as a king sitting on a throne, which is why this Gospel is chosen for this feast. Like a shepherd separating sheep and goats, Jesus groups people based on how they lived their lives.
“Sheep” show love and concern for others. They feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. “Goats” do the opposite, ignoring people who are on the margins of society and most in need. Each group is judged for their actions or inactions, with the sheep inheriting the kingdom and eternal life and goats receiving eternal punishment.
This parable of judgment is often invoked to remind people to serve, advocate for marginalized groups and seek justice. It sets priorities for the faithful by affirming that faith is not solely a person’s adherence to a set of beliefs but is an active care for people in the world.
The actions listed here are included in the Corporal Works of Mercy, as they stress physical needs to promote and sustain life. Jesus reminds us that by serving others and supplying their needs, we serve God. Moreover, by ignoring and blaming people and downplaying their needs, we disregard others and God: “When you did not do it for one of these least ones, you did not do it for me.”
Although this is an eschatological passage about future times, its purpose is to effect change in the present. The primary point is not to affirm Christ the King as the final judge but rather to affirm that Christ the King is present now among the poor, the immigrants, the sick and the imprisoned. The theological implications are massive and should not be minimized. Jesus proclaims that being a righteous person of faith means acting on behalf of those most in need, as Christ the King is with them. Living faithfully requires a commitment to serving and advocating for the most vulnerable in society, not dehumanizing, denigrating or disregarding them.
As we conclude this difficult year and prepare for a new liturgical cycle, we should reflect on what we have done and will do to live out the Gospel injunction to love and serve others.