The American writer Mark Twain said one time that it wasn’t the passages of the Bible that he couldn’t understand that he found most difficult but the ones that he could clearly understand. Its hard to imagine any passage in the Scriptures that is more challenging than that one today concerning the Last Judgment. It could be phrased as a simple question: Who will stand firm at the Last Judgment? The answer it spells out so clearly is, the one who lovingly stands by those in need.
From the early Kingdom of Spain comes a story that is very similar to that of the Gospel message. One day King Richard was out hunting. While deep in the forest he was overtaken by a violent thunderstorm and found himself alone and hopelessly lost. It was evening and as he tried to find his way back to the royal palace he was’nt able. As the night came on it became cold and he was out in the open. Tormented with hunger he wandered endlessly around the forest. Wet and exhausted he came at last in the early morning to a lonely farmhouse. He knocked on the door and knocked several times but no one answered. In despair he tried the door that was not fastened and creaked open. The peasant farmer leapt from his kitchen table and shouted ‘You scroundrel, you’re trying to steal something here. See that you get out immediately or I will set the dogs on you.’
The King begged and pleaded but the peasant only got more angry. Finally he struck the king in the face and slammed the door after him. Some people were passing by and with their help the king managed to get back home. Days later the king invited the peasant to visit the Palace. The peasant thought, why am I being called to see the king, I have done nothing to him and I don’t even know him.
He had to enter the great hall all by himself and stand before the assembled princes of the kingdom. The king was on his throne with his royal robes with scepter in hand and crown on his head. For a long time he gazed at the trembling peasant in silence and then asked; ‘do you know me’? Suddenly the penny dropped, he did know him and he was so struck by those words that he just collapsed and died.
All the great religions of the world have a similar version of the last judgment and they all say that we will each hear those words….. I was hungry……. I was sick………I was a stranger ……….I was naked.
Let us so live that Christ will not have to say to any of us; you failed to recognize me in the least of your brothers and sisters, away with you into everlasting fire. ‘What you failed to do to your brothers and sisters you failed to do to me’.
Fr Jim Cogley