Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A-2011

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to save me (Ps. 31:3—NAB)

At the last judgment, according to today’s Gospel reading, people who consider their salvation assured because of their invocation of Jesus’ name and their prophetic utterances and miracles in the same name are cursed in these words: “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” On the other hand and in another scene, those who show heartfelt compassion, even when not aware of the true identity of the beneficiaries of their corporal works of mercy, receive the blessing: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).

Jesus, the supreme judge with authority to reveal not only the will of God but also the hidden thoughts of many hearts (Lk. 2:35), lays down so unexpected sentences that all are surprised, some unpleasantly, others pleasantly. What is unpleasant in this case is paradoxically associated with being pleased with oneself, or better, self-complacency and arrogance, while the pleasant supposes acceptance of people we find unpleasant not infrequently.

The just judge obviously makes use of criteria different from ours, although his are not altogether unknown to us because we acknowledge, for instance, that the son who says no his father’s command, but then changes his mind and goes to do it, does his father’s will rather than the other son who says yes to his father but then does not live up to his word (Mt. 21:28-32). Jesus does not consider sufficient that a follower of his just says the right and learned words or does spectacular works of exorcism and healing, which could possibly make for his putting himself above the official magisterium of the Church, making himself, so to speak, the altar rather than the pedestal [1]. It behooves such an eloquent preacher or an amazing wonder-worker, and those too who are obsessed with legalism and scrupulous observance, to heed the insistence in the second reading that neither words nor works justify, much less the works—like almsgiving, praying and fasting—done for show (Rom. 3:21-25, 28; Gal. 3:11; Eph. 2:8-9; Mt. 6:1-2, 5, 16-17). What justifies is faith in Jesus (Gal. 2:16), a living faith, however, which works through love—and this specification should be highlighted especially for those who tend to be lax (1 Cor. 3:13-15; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:10; Jas. 2:17-18) [2].

Jesus demands above all that his disciple commends himself into the hands of God, his rock and his stronghold, and is committed without reservation and wholly obedient to the will of God. Such abandonment of oneself to God and such commitment and obedience necessarily leads to a life of love and justice. The divine will is revealed not only in Jesus’ actions but also in his teachings. Hence, a disciple is to listen to Jesus’ words and, even more importantly, act on them. We do not collapse, or we collapse, on the basis of whether we act, or do not act, on the words we hear from Jesus. By the same token are we thus blessed or cursed. It bears repeating time and again, therefore, that Jesus Christ and his words are the rule of life and of the mission.

And it bears repeating time and again as well that St. Vincent de Paul was an exemplary Christian, an assiduous follower of Jesus (as clearly indicated by the foundational principles he laid down before Father Portail) [3], given to neither legalism nor laxity, neither lazy no indiscreetly zealous. It is not surprising, therefore, that the saint put much importance on the practice of doing the will of God [4]. Likewise, he emphasized the need of the Church, as a great harvest, laborers, but hard-working ones [5]. He upheld moreover and acted on this conviction: “There is no better way to assure our eternal happiness than to live and die in the service of the poor, in the arms of Providence, and in real renunciation of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ” [6].

It is the last judge, of course, who provides the assurance of salvation to those who, accepting Jesus and his teaching, take the poor as their lords and masters. At the last judgment, the latter will hear the former say to them: “I assure you that whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40).

And it is essential that this assurance is not disconnected from another assurance that says in part: “I assure you that … whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6:53-54).


NOTES:

[1] Cf. Inter-Varsity Press Commentary at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Discern-Fruits-Not-Gifts (accessed February 27, 2011).
[2] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1990) 42:50.
[3] P. Coste I, 295.
[4] Ibid. XI, 317.
[5] Ibid. XI, 40.
[6] Ibid. III, 392.