HOMILY – NOVEMBER 26
God and his Church want us to be very clear about this: Christ our King, our Lord and Savior, indeed came to redeem us. He came to win us back to the Father. He came to take our sins on himself so that we might be free. He came to break the stranglehold of the evil one on a human nature that would never again only be fallen, but now, more importantly, be REDEEMED. When in faith we accept the redemption Christ has mercifully won for us, we are saved. But being saved means recognizing that Christ sets a pattern of behavior for us that we must strive to imitate. It is not enough for us disciples to proclaim “I’m saved!” and then to continue to behave as if nothing had happened. The proof of that acceptance on our part is the action of grace and of the Holy Spirit. These lead us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord both in belief and in deed. Belief that is not expressed in action is as false as good deeds performed without reference to Christ — although in that case, at least a person would be acting according to the lights of the NATURAL law within us.
To listen to some Christians, you’d think that the only code of behavior God has given us consists of the Ten Commandments. Christ expands the meaning of each of the commandments, adding our interior dispositions and attitudes to our outward obedience to what God commands. But he also adds the Beatitudes, and in today’s Gospel, the works of mercy. In fact, the penalty for not being alert to the opportunities for the works of mercy is the harshest condemnation to be found in the teachings of Christ. It is echoed, for instance, in Luke’s story of the rich man who literally and routinely walks over the poor man Lazarus at his doorstep. The rich man dies and suffers the torments assigned to the unrighteous in today’s Gospel.
Jesus himself often compares God to a king, or to a powerful landowner. The wonderful imagery he employs in his story of those who are like the sheep and the goats is so simple that even children can easily understand it. The imagery leads us to understand the point. Note that Jesus does not fault the sheep, the righteous, for not recognizing him. Instead, he REVEALS himself to them: “When you did this or that for someone else, THAT WAS ME!!” They had simply done what they were commanded to do by God: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Let’s be clear: Love of God and love of neighbor are not the two Great OPTIONS. They are COMMANDMENTS, from our Creator himself. Everything else, including our eternal salvation, depends on those. Obeying and fulfilling them means we’ve accepted God’s message, and the Messenger, Christ Jesus our King, reveals himself as The Message, God’s Eternal Word made flesh.
Then there are those who are represented by the goats. “When did we see YOU?” they cry. “If only we had known it was YOU, we would have acted differently!!” Ah, but that’s no excuse. The key was to respond to the needs of EVERYONE, without regard to who they are or whether they deserve it. As Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “Doesn’t God make his sun shine and his rain fall on the good AND the bad? Therefore, be perfect AS your heavenly Father is perfect.” If we spend more time tracking the lifestyles of the rich and famous than we do attending to the needs of the humble and unknown, we know we’ve got work to do! Jesus tells us, “The poor will ALWAYS be with you.” That’s right, the works of mercy are the work of a lifetime, so we’d better get started.