Matthew 25: 31 - 46 (Christ the King, year a)
When I was a seminarian, a large and stressful part of my life was studying for exams. One evening after dinner I was having a conversation with another seminarian about all the tests we had coming up. We expressed how worried we were and how much we were studying. We both felt that unless we did well on our exams, we would not see our semester as a success. After speaking for a few minutes, we were surprised when an old priest joined our conversation. He had overheard all we had said. This priest explained that our exams are important and we should study and try our hardest. Before he left, he said one short line I will never forget: “Now remember, no matter how you do on these class exams, just make sure you pass your final exam!” By “final exam”, this elderly priest was referring to the scene that is described in the gospel of today in which the the sheep are separated from the goats by Christ the King.
We all have different ways of measuring whether our life is a success or not. We hold ourselves to certain standards. Sometimes people place these standards on others, particularly their children. If you meet these expectations you are good and your life is a success. If not, it’s a failure. As I mentioned, for me such a standard was doing well academically. For others, the test of their life’s value may be whether they are popular and have many friends. Or maybe they give themselves a passing grade if they have a great job and are respected in their profession. Still others judge their value based on the amount of money they have. Do you have a nice house? A flashy car? The latest smartphone? We all create different tests to see whether or not we or those around us are “making the grade” in their life. Certainly, many of these goals are important and worth working towards. The problem is that none of these things matter in our final exam.
In the end, Jesus’ test is easy and it consists of just one question: did you show me love by concretely helping those who are in need? It is incredible when we consider the fact that so much of what we consider important, so much of what we spend our time working towards and worrying about, does not come up on Jesus’ final exam. What matters is simply whether we have helped those who are poor and needy or not. This is the way that we show love to Jesus. This is how we will be judged. Mother Teresa lived this reality in a profound way in her life. She was always careful to explain that the incredible work she did with the poor was not mere social work, but rather service done for Jesus, out of love for him. She explained that the Gospel, the entire message of Jesus, is so simple that it can be summarized in five words. She would repeat these words by counting them out on her fingers. Mother Teresa would teach others to do the same. This is what she called the five-fingered-Gospel: you did it to me. Whenever we do something to help someone in need, it is as though we did it to Jesus. Whenever we failed to do for someone in need, it is as though we fail to do it for Jesus. At the end of our life we will be judged on our response to this simple reality.
Jesus’ final exam is a practical test rather than one testing mere theory. Notice that Jesus does not tell us we will be judged based on whether we thought it was a good idea to help those in need or intended to do this. He judges us on whether or not we concretely helped the needy or not. There are many ways we can help those in need. For example, we can volunteer our time at a soup kitchen. I would like to look at a very simple way that all of us can help the poor. It is also a simple test to know whether we are doing so or not. If you have ever seen the movie Jerry Maguire, you will be familiar with the most catchy phrase from the film: show me the money! How generous we are in giving our money to those in need clearly reflects our commitment to the poor. Certainly not all can give as much to the poor as others, but the majority of us can and should be giving something. I am not speaking here about giving a toonie now and then to someone begging on the street. I would argue that this is not the most efficient and prudent use of our money. I am speaking here about giving consistently and regularly to some charity that helps the poor. There are many such groups run by the Archdiocese of Vancouver, for example, the Men’s Hostel or the Door is Open. Giving to Project Advance is also a way to help the poor and needy as this initiative funds many worthwhile Catholic Charities. When we look at our monthly budget we find a long list of expenses. Is one of the items on this list a regular financial contribution to the poor? If we do give regularly, do we give less to the poor than we spent on coffee or going to the movies? In a recent homily, Pope Francis said the following:
“this is a golden rule. When conversion reaches your pockets, it’s certain”. He explained: “Christians at heart? Everyone. Christians in mind? Everyone”. But, Pope Francis asked, how many are Christians when it comes to “our pockets? Few”.
When I was in school, teachers would sometimes give us the exam questions ahead of time. When this happened, I always spent a lot of time preparing these questions. I would be foolish not to. Jesus, our King and judge, has told us that at the end of our life we will be tested on only one question. He has told us well in advance what the question is so we all have plenty of time to prepare. You did it to me. Has our conversion reached our wallet? Does the way in which we spend out money show care for Jesus present in the poor and needy or not?