The story isn’t actually a parable, but a recalling of the final judgment of all the peoples. The whole scene is focused on a lengthy dialogue between the judge, who isn’t anyone but the risen Jesus, and two groups of people: those who have eased the suffering of the most needy and those who denied them help.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have found in this fascinating dialogue «the best summary of the Gospel», «the absolute praise of loving solidarity», or «the gravest warning to those who falsely seek refuge in religion». We’ll point out the basic assertions.
All men and women, without exception, will be judged by the same criterion. What gives life an unprecedented value isn’t one’s social condition, or personal talent, or successes logged throughout one’s years. What’s decisive is the practical love in solidarity with those in need of help.
This love is translated into very concrete deeds. For example, «give food», «give drink», «welcome the immigrant», «visit the sick or imprisoned». The things that are decisive for God aren’t religious actions, but these human gestures of help for the needy. They can come out of a believer or from the heart of an agnostic who’s concerned about those who suffer.
The group of those who have helped the needy they met in their journey didn’t do it for religious motives. They haven’t thought about God or Jesus. They simply have sought to alleviate a little the suffering in our world. Now, invited by Jesus, they enter into God’s reign as those «blessed by the Father».
Why is it so decisive to help the needy and so condemnable to deny them help? Because, according to the judge, what is done or not done to the needy is done or not done to the very God incarnate in Christ. When we abandon a needy person, we are abandoning God. When we ease someone’s suffering, we are doing so for God.
This surprising message gets us all to look on those who suffer. There’s no true religion, no progressive politics, no responsible proclamation of human rights if it isn’t defending the most needy, easing their suffering and restoring their dignity.
In each person who is suffering, Jesus comes out to meet us, he looks at us, questions us and challenges us. Nothing brings us closer to him than to learn to gaze carefully on the faces of those who are suffering without compassion. There’s no place we could recognize more truly the face of Jesus.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf