The Gospel for Sunday’s Mass of Christ the King gave great emphasis to the importance of the works of mercy.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”
‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’
The works of mercy are of course beautiful works, pleasing to God and of great benefit to neighbour – and to those who carry them out.
But they are also, often, exhausting.
When we find that observation to be compelling in its truth, it is good to remember that this is how the Lord ministers to us. And not only to the point of exhaustion but to his very death.
In our hungers and thirsts, in our alienation and aloneness, when we are exposed, imprisoned by sin, the Lord comes to us and ministers to us. Whether things are true about and for us in their usual literal sense or true in a metaphorical sense – the Lord ministers to us (astounding but true.) He calls us to life and to wholeness in him.
Photograph is of the healing of the paralytic by Jesus. The carving features on one of the pillars built over the house of Peter in Capernaum. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.