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Challenges in a Courtroom

Matthew 25: 31 - 46

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(10/23/08) The present year of grace in which St. Matthew has served as our guide and spiritual director ends today in this climactic feast of "Christ the King". Our new year of grace, the Advent season, begins next Sunday. Today's feast of "Christ the King" encourages you and me to be "counter cultural" as we grow in our witness of Jesus, our Brother and our Lord In this magnificent parable of Jesus.

Matthew in today's "Good News" invites us to let our imagination soar. Jesus , the Son of Man, likens himself to a shepherd- judge. He uses the familiar examples of sheep and goats as symbols to describe two types of people. The Jews saw sheep as noble animals respected for their silence in the face of danger. They frequently saw goats as shameful animals frequently associated with human sin. Jesus, the shepherd-king separates these symbolic groups of "sheep" and "goats" as a way of helping his disciples then, and you and me, his disciples today, understand that our future depends on how we answer the righteous demands of the present moment.

Jesus challenges us to see ourselves in a "courtroom." Summons have been received; depositions taken. Jesus, the shepherd-judge is seated on the bench and witnesses are being called on. Did you and I speak out for these witnesses? Or did we fail to do so? These witnesses are the hungry, the naked, the ill, the stranger, the aborted and the euthanized, the picked-on and bullied, the gossiped about and carped against, those who are neglected, the shunned and the shunted away; they are those victimized by war, poverty and abuse, those whose humanity was not recognized by dictators and profiteering employers, those discriminated against for religious, sexual, racial or ethnic reasons, those who suffered the death-penalty -all those who needed us and we walked away. These witnesses will testify to their former needs and the way you and I responded to them. Note, friends, how the whole thrust of the "courtroom proceedings" has been on what we have failed to do. May our future be one of enjoyment and not endurance.

If you and I practice only charity to those in need, then the miseries that we face in our culture will be held at bay temporarily, but return later on with a vengeance. We need to continue our band-aid solutions, however noble they are, as we donate to different charities-as we give our time and talent in handing out loaves of bread and ladling bowls of soup; as we give away those extra sweaters or outgrown suits peeking out from our closets and attics, and distribute gift cards from the local groceries and as we hold our marches for life. But - even more realistically- with our eyes on tomorrow in our society and in our Church, we have to address the causes of our social evils and support programs that address the causes of these evils. We need to rework systems that demand to be reformed so that what we do in charity today may be ensured by the outreach of social justice tomorrow.

When you and I do not merely read the Word of the Lord, but rather struggle under grace to live the Word of the Lord, we will no longer think of what we are doing as charity. Rather we will see ourselves as meeting the demands of social justice by which we accept to live as a people who "do the right, love goodness, and walk humbly with our God." (Micah 6:8). You and I are uncomfortably challenged to realize that all humans are "blood-bonded" with us by the blood of Jesus, our Brother and our Lord. In meeting this challenge may we deepen as a people struggling to respond to the passionate love of Jesus for us.. We mature in meeting our baptismal responsibility as we open our eyes, hearts, and hands to the needs of others in their struggle for justice.

Jesus in his ministry gave special attention to areas of humankind: He is the king of the pushovers, the lost, the losers. He sides with the dregs and the down-and-outs, the strange, the odd-balls, and the questionable, and those on the margins of Church and society. He is the unwanted old and the unwanted young. He sides with the least. And you and I, dear Friends, are in many ways in our own lives the least. Jesus sides with us as well.

Jesus in binding us to himself with cords of love roots his Kingdom within us. As we end this year and begin a new year of grace may we not be deaf as we witness his love to others. His gifts come to us each day in those who silently or noisily present themselves to his love through us. May we not be blind to the thousand-and-one ways in which he visits us. Then it is that the ordinary becomes extraordinary through his gifts of grace.

Read other homilies by Father Paul