There once was a man who constantly prayed to God, asking for a vision of both heaven and hell. He prayed for years for this vision until, finally, after much persistence God chose to grant him one. He was offered the decision as to which he would see first. He chose to go and see hell first. An angel of the Lord led him down several corridors to a door which was large and heavy. The angel opened it with strain and a groaning creak. It the room the light was low but it was easy enough to discern the massive feast laid out for those who were gathered around the tables.
This is when the man notice that the people gathered around the tables with all kinds of food, but the people were in an emaciated state. They had spoons with very long handles to eat with, but no one was able to feed themselves because of the length of the handles. Several people that the old man could see were in a mess from trying unsuccessfully feed themselves. This was a painful sight to behold and after a few moments the man asked the Angel to take him away from there.
Next the old man was led up several passages to another wide door, that thought it was large, it swung easily on its hinges and the angel led the man into a brightly lit room like the one that he had just been in. There were many people around the tables, but unlike the first, the people were laughing and feasting and enjoying everything on the tables and each other’s company. The difference? Though they had the same long handled spoons, they were willing and able to fee each other.
The Gospel this week (Matthew 25.31-46) continues the apocalyptic eschatological considerations of the parables about the kingdom of heaven. “Apocalyptic” refers to a revelation and “eschatological” is the study of the end times. Moreover, this Sunday is the end of the Christian liturgical year which makes this Sunday, “Reign” Sunday – the reign of Christ the King. The Gospel talks about the Son of Man coming with angels and executing his judgment on the nations of the earth, separating people into one of two categories: sheep and goats. And it seems clear that those being judge are confused buy God’s justice. The Son of Man does not judge on the words that that been spoken or on the thoughts and beliefs that a person holds, but on how the person has lived out his or her life. Rewards is given to those who have sought to serve his/her neighbours without thought of reward. Such people are given mercy out of grace not because the Giver is in a position of indebtedness to the one who has offered Charity to another.
The parable of the sheep and the goats shows us how the Church can relate to the nations of the earth about how God treats them at the time of judgement. The Church can recognize that Jesus is Lord and because Jesus lives, he rules. Jesus is Lord over all: every ruler, power, principality and authority. Jesus’ name is higher than any other name that is given under heaven, not just in the present but also in the age that is to come. There is no one in heaven or on earth who is Christ’s equal. The Father is putting everything under Christ’s authority and he is the head of his Body, the Church. We as members of his Body are engaged to live in his power – the same power that raised Jesus from death – and under his authority. We are called to live in him and for him as we look to that Final Day. He is our hope and he keeps us with him because the last Days of this world, will be terrible days (2nd Timothy 3)
I know many people who still worry about hell and committing an unforgivable sin, putting them into hell. There are some things that I think I need to say as a pastor and priest about that: (1) if you are worried that you have done something that is totally unforgiveable, don’t worry, you haven’t yet. The fact that you are not dulled yet to God’s holiness and perfection is a good thing. But you do need to repent of whatever it is that is separating you from God and from us. Yes, it means that things are going to change in your life but that means things can get better for you and for us (2) Whatever else hell is or is not, it is this: it will be where people are, and the presence of God is not; and the people there in that place, will know that they are without God.”; (3) There will be few surprises about who will be in heaven, but there will be more surprises over who is not.
This week is a time to celebrate the hope that the return of Jesus, King Jesus comes soon. Not as the baby who came to the manger 2000 plus years ago, but as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Hope that, we being found faithful and mature in him, we will live with him and for him in the life that is to come.