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Sunday Homily, 26 November - Fr Paul Rowse, OP.

One aspect of Christ’s majesty for which we can give special thanks to God is his ability to incorporate others into himself. So it is that he drew all humanity into himself when he took flesh and was born a man. He drew all sinners into himself when he died on the cross for our reconciliation. He draws all people into his Body, the Church, whenever we confer baptism. By incorporating others into himself, Christ unites himself to the same fate as them: he suffered a mortal death by becoming flesh; he killed off the death which is sinners’ inheritance when he rose again; he obtained all graces from the eternal Father for his beloved Bride.

You and I might aspire to do the same when we show mercy to those in need. Mercy is making another’s misery our own. We show mercy because we are moved by the situation we see before us as if we were in it ourselves. Thus, Christ shows mercy and satisfies those who are hungry for heaven by the forgiveness of sins; we show mercy when we satisfy the hungry with the necessities of life.

All of the kinds of suffering the Lord mentions in Matthew 25 he himself also suffered during his Passion. He fasted after the Last Supper and thirsted on the cross. He was a foreigner to Pilate and a stranger to his Jewish opponents. He was stripped naked, mortally wounded, and taken for a criminal. The next chapter of Matthew begins the Passion narrative, beginning with the anointing at Bethany and the Last Supper: thus, the earthly ministry is over. There will be no more parables. Instead, four times we are given this list of sufferings to relieve. They are our mission.

We should also consider another reading of this parable, which begins from identifying who “the least of these brothers of mine” are. We should not be too quick to move on here. Some say the “least of my brothers” refers to the disciples: they are neither the sheep nor the goats; instead, they are the recipients of the mercy of the nations. Christ has said before that where two or three are gathered he’s there among them. He’s also said that whoever gives but a cup of cold water to a disciple of his shall keep their reward.

The Lord is teaching his disciples about the treatment they can expect and what to make of those who help them when they suffer for his sake. Christ is always with us. So, whatever befalls his disciples isn’t a sign of their abandonment or disfavour. He is saying that he will reward those who accept them as his, when they suffer for his sake. He is faithful; he is good to his word; those who come to help his disciples shall have a disciple’s reward.

Thus, the parable can lead us to think of what happens to mercy-givers and generous benefactors who do not yet have explicit faith in Christ. They look at the altar and see but bread on it; they listen to the readings and hear but nice stories. It is possible to fear and fret for those who are not yet ready to believe as we do. But that does not mean they do not know Christ. They know him by the compassion and mercy they show us when they help us in our need. They belong to heaven, even if they do not yet belong to the Church. They are not far from the kingdom.

Nevertheless, we do all we can to share the good news of Christ’s rising from the dead with them, so that they will profess Christian faith. At the same time, we hold out hope of eternal life for them. They help the Church and so belong to us. They are not against us, and so are for us; and we are for Christ our King: to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest

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