I went to my first ever Russian Byzantine Catholic mass on Sunday, and very much enjoyed among other things the priest’s homily, which—miracle!—did not shy away from the key message of the Gospel reading.
This appears long. Looks deceive. Please read it: there is a point, even for those who still claim to be atheists (as I did for many years).
And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty.
And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.
Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.
Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?
Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.
And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.
In our day, the usual gloss on this is to focus on the prescriptions, which are well and good and necessary. Do this, says Jesus. And, yes, do this.
But this simple reading leaves us short, for we miss the implicit conclusions that fly by.
There are three. In order of importance: (1) Jesus claimed to be God; (2) Heaven exists; (3) Hell exists.
Peter Kreeft says many think something like this: “Yes, God doesn’t exist, but this Jesus fellow was a good man and had some good things to say on how to act.” But this utterly fails, Kreeft tells us, when we consider we have here a man who claimed to be God. A good man does not do this. A wicked or insane man might. And nobody should listen to a wicked or insane man.
Jesus told his shocked hearers that it was he, a man, who was to judge all men as King of all creation, a power reserved only to God. Jesus claimed to be God. And that is truly shocking. How could a man be God! How indeed?
Not only that, God-Jesus (and, as we later learn, Holy Ghost) said that those who loved him would gain eternal life. An entire kingdom!
Well, that part, the part about eternal reward, is believed by most nowadays, even those professing atheism. It’s only that atheists believe this kingdom will be silent as the tomb: a blissful non-existence.
But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, this quiet non-existence is not possible. You are only a sheep or a goat. And you don’t get to choose ultimately.
The goats won’t have it so good. If Jesus is who he claimed to be (and he is), then many will “go into everlasting punishment”. Everlasting is a long time. This is a promise from God Himself.
This cold reality is at variance with what many modern men preach, but these are only men. Actual men. Men who have forgotten the words of the highest authority.
Glubb in his history of Muhammad tells us a great many idol-worshiping Arabs were reduced to penitent tears upon hearing of Hell. This hard fact was responsible for more conversions than any other. You can’t help but wonder if it would be the same for us.