Reflection Readings: 1 John 3:14-18; Matthew 25:31-40


Commentaries on1 John 3:14-18; Matthew 25:31-40

It would be difficult to find a more appropriate Gospel passage with which to honour John of the Cross.  It is the final section of chapter 25 in Matthew, a chapter which deals with the end times and about being prepared for the time when we will come face to face with our final appraisal.  The chapter begins with the parable of the ten bridesmaids – five of them who took precautions to be ready whenever the bridegroom would arrive and five who made no preparations and were caught off guard and so excluded from the wedding celebrations.

The second is the parable of the talents where three people are entrusted with different amounts by their superior and told to trade with them until he returned, whenever that would be.  Two of the servants used their capital very well and even doubled it.  But the third, hid his in the ground afraid even to lose what he had.  When the master returned, this last had nothing to offer except the original sum he had been given.

The last part which forms today’s Gospel is not exactly a parable but an imaginary enactment of our final calling to account at the end of our lives.  People are going to be divided into two groups, just as a shepherd divides off the sheep from the goats.

The sheep are first called forward and invited into God’s Kingdom.  What is interesting are the reasons why they have earned this reward.  If, left to ourselves, we were asked the kind of expectations God would have of us at the end of our lives, I wonder what kind of things would we bring up?  Would we say, for instance, that we never missed Mass, that we went to confession regularly, that we practised all kinds of prayers and devotions, that we kept the Commandment with great fidelity, were very conscientious in our work and so on?   On what basis are the sheep called in this story?  “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you offered me hospitality; I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Apparently, the sheep are very surprised to hear this and ask, “When did we see you hungry and feed you?  When did we see you thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in hospital and come to your help?”  And the King will say to them, “As often as you did these things to the very least of my brothers and sisters you did them to Me.”  No mention of spiritual practices, even of Mass, and no mention of keeping the Commandments.  No mention of God!  In fact, the two great acts which the Gospel emphasises are love and service of one another and that is exactly what is described here.  “By this will all know that you are my followers, that you have love one for another.”  Once love and service are taken care of nothing else really matters.  That is not to say that we can forget about Mass and prayer.  Not at all.  But it is the love and service of each other that must come first.  And it is on that that we will be measured.

John of the Cross, of course, was outstanding in his care and compassion for the sick poor and the abandoned.

 

The First Reading from the First Letter of John is saying exactly the same thing in slightly different words.  “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers and sisters.”  And to love, of course, is not just to have nice feelings towards them but to do much more, to serve them in all their real needs.  “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and no murderer has eternal life in him.”   As our example, we need look no further than Jesus himself who laid down his life out of love for us.  And we need to do the same not just for Jesus but for Jesus present in all our brothers and sisters.  There is no short cut to Jesus, bypassing those around us.  “If anyone has material goods but has no compassion for a brother or sister in need, how can the love of God be in that person?”  So the writer says, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

It is very easy to make all kinds of proclamations of love to Jesus in our prayers but unless they are backed up by solid deeds of service, especially to the needy, they are very hollow indeed.  John of the Cross has much to teach us about all of this.

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