Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe: a royalty built on charity

Homiletics of the Fathers of The Island of Patmos


This page of the Gospel proclaimed today in our churches is so splendid, that every comment seems to spoil it a little. Better to leave it as it is, simply, to indicate to people that human life is never conceivable without the other. Tragedy then the conflict will not be, otherness, the difference but rather the two extremes that deny this relationship: confusion and separation











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In a short but famous apologue by title Martin's Christmas the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy1 told of man, a cobbler named Martin, who had mysteriously met the Lord in the needy people who had passed by his shop during the day and expressly cited the page of Gospel for this Sunday.

Saint Martin gives part of his cloak to the poor (painting, overall element) by Bartolomeo Vivarini (SEC. XV)

The literature it was not the only art that this wonderful page of Matteo inspired, just think of Buonarroti's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Let's read it:

"During that time, Jesus told his disciples: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the peoples will be gathered before him. He will separate one from another, how the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and 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 on, blessed of my Father, receive as an inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world, because I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink:, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and dressed me, sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to visit me". Then the righteous will answer him: "Man, when we saw you hungry and fed you, you are thirsty and we gave you something to drink? When have we ever seen you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and clothe you? When have we ever seen you sick or in prison and come to visit you?”. And the king will answer them: “Truly I tell you: everything you have done to just one of these least brothers of mine, you did it to me ". Then he will also say to those on the left: “Via, away from me, cursed, the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, because I was hungry and you didn't give me anything to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you visited me ". Then it will: "Man, when we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we did not serve you?”. Then he will answer them: “Truly I tell you: everything that you have not done to even one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me. And they will go: to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life".

With today's song it ends not only, regarding the liturgy, the current liturgical year, which gives way to Advent, but also the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew. In fact, immediately after our pericope the evangelist begins the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, with these words: «Once all this talk is over, Jesus said to his disciples" (Mt 26,1). Jesus will teach in another way from now on, especially with gestures and obedience to the Father in the supreme test of the cross. For this reason today's pericope is of particular importance, the last speech given by Jesus in Matthew, without counting, the invitation of the Risen One to make disciples and baptize in 28,18-19, and the few but important words said during the passion, starting from the last supper.

Solo by the way it must also be said that despite a consolidated interpretative practice that begins with the Fathers of the Church and which leads to defining the scene as the "universal" judgment, starting from the 18th century, the many good clues in the text are underlined, not just lexical, to believe that instead of a judgment for the whole humanity, the text implies, on the contrary, a judgment only for pagans, but it is not possible in this context to make this interpretation explicit as it would require too much space.

The judgment scene is exclusively Matthean, and it is masterfully built, with the use of various expedients such as repetition, useful for memorization. There are many comparisons that we can make with the apocalyptic language and symbolism current at the time of Jesus which appear from time to time in the canonical literature - Daniel and Apocalypse - but also in the apocryphal literature. The original data, revolutionary, instead, the novelty that Jesus' speech brings is that the same judge, the king, consider himself the object of such actions: «I was hungry and I you fed", or, «not me you fed". This creates an effect of surprise both in those who showed him mercy and in those who denied it. While in the Old Testament the day of the Lord is decreed by God himself and therefore He is the only one who judges, in the logic of the New Testament it is Jesus, the Messiah, who can intervene in this judgment. Consequently God will carry out judgment, but this in nuce it already happens in the way we have related to his Son in this world, to Jesus present in the poor who were hungry and thirsty and who were or were not assisted by us. That's why at the end of time, it will be Christ, the Lamb, to take up the book of our life, what not even we are capable of reading and fully understanding, and to open its seals (cf.. AP 5).

What is then striking is the grandiose vision which embraces the whole of humanity is accompanied by the gaze placed on each one and, in particular, on those people who are normally the most invisible: poor, sick people, prisoners, hungry, thirsty, foreigners, naked. It is no coincidence that our text calls them "minimal" (vv. 40.45). Charity towards the needy, the gesture of sharing that is so simple, Human, daily, for everyone, believers and non-believers, it becomes that on which the final judgment is exercised. The example of Martin of Tours, according to the hagiographic narration of Sulpicius Severus2, it is emblematic. After having divided his cloak with the sword to cover the nakedness of a poor beggar at the gates of Amiens, in a harsh winter, Martin had a vision in a dream of Christ saying to him: «Martino, you have covered me with your cloak". Christ is identified with the poor, as in our evangelical page.

This page of the Gospel is so splendid proclaimed today in our churches, that every comment seems to spoil it a little. Better to leave it as it is, simply, to indicate to people that human life is never conceivable without the other. Tragedy then the conflict will not be, otherness, the difference but rather the two extremes that deny this relationship: confusion and separation3. The others, especially if in need, they will not be hell for me but a blessing: «You are blessed because…». Two famous ones pieces theatrical, one by Sartre4 with the famous expression inside: "Hell is other people"; the other by Pirandello, Dressing the naked5, which in the title makes direct reference to our evangelical passage, they dramatically tell us that by not excluding the Other from one's world the problem would be easily solvable and hell would cease to exist. Those authors understood, on the contrary, note the impossibility of an existence that excludes the Other. In other words, hell, it's the others, because you cannot escape from otherness, one realizes that the Other holds the secret of one's being and, while, that without the Other this being would not be possible.

So does the Lord Jesus, even in his last speech, surprised us once again by giving a new meaning to the 'works of mercy', already known in contemporary Judaism, where they were, But, understood as a sort of imitation of God, in the sense of doing for others what God himself has done for man. However, they did not foresee that the eternal judge was hidden behind very humble existences, disadvantaged and defeated. In the other, in his brother, there is Jesus who had said to his disciples: «Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me... Whoever gives even a single glass of cold water to drink to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, verily I tell you: he will not lose his reward ". While now he extends this vision to all of humanity – panta ta ethne, all nations del v.22: «Everything you have done to just one of these youngest brothers of mine, you did it to me". Because as an ancient hymn used in the liturgy of Holy Thursday says: «Where charity and love, God is there».

Happy Sunday everyone!

From the Hermitage, 25 November 2023



[1] Tolstoy's reworking first appeared anonymously in the magazine “Russkij rabocij” (The Russian worker), no. 1 the 1884, with the title “Djadja Martyn” (Uncle Martyn). In 1886 the story, with the title “Where there is love there is God”, it was included in a volume published in Moscow by Posrednik together with eight others, all with the signature of Leo Tolstoy

[2] Severo Sulpicio,Life of Martin, EDB, 2003

[3] Michel de Certeaux, Never without the other. Journey into the difference, 1983

[4] J.P. Sartre, Closed door, Bompiani, Milan 2013

[5] Pirandello L., Naked masks. Vol. 5: Henry IV – Mrs. Morli, one and two – Dressing the naked, Mondadori, 2010



Sant'Angelo Cave in Ripe (Civitella del Tronto)



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