“Fear the judgment of God!” Some preachers still use threats to discourage us from evil, but it is becoming less and less effective. The image of God as a judge is present in the Gospel, especially that of Matthew, in which it appears on almost every page. More importantly, this final judgment of a forensic type pronounced by God at the end of life will no longer be of help to anyone. At that point, it will be impossible for anyone to make up for the lost or badly used time.
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The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the crown of the liturgical year. Today’s liturgy summarizes the mission of Christ. He died on the Cross for us to reveal to us the depth of God’s love and his boundless mercy on sinners.
Using apocalyptic language and images, Jesus wants to tear the veil that prevents us from seeing the world with God's eyes. When he seems to announce the end of the cosmos, he is not referring 'to' the end of the world, but helping us understand 'the' end of the world. Apocalypse does not mean catastrophe, but revelation, unveiling. We need the Word of Christ to enlighten us and, beyond the blurred path traced by men, to allow us to choose the direction that the Lord is describing.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. It was built by Constantine and was for centuries the habitual residence of the Popes. Even today, although he lives in the Vatican, the Pope annually presides on Holy Thursday the Eucharist and the Washing of the Feet in St. John Lateran. This basilica is a symbol of the unity of all Christian communities with Rome. It is called “mother of all the Churches,” and r this reason, we celebrate this holiday worldwide.
From the third century there appears, in the catacombs, the figure of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulder. It is Christ, who takes by hand and cradles in his arms the person who is afraid to cross alone the dark valley of the death. With him, the Risen One, the disciples serenely abandon this life, confident that the shepherd to whom they have entrusted their life will lead them towards lush meadows and quiet streams (Ps 23:2) where they will find refreshment after a long tiring journey in the desert of this dry and dusty earth.
Today there is a tendency to resort to the saint to ask him/her to present to God a request that is fading. We turn to the Lord more and more, directly, with the confidence of children. The saints—Mary too—are rightly regarded as sisters and brothers who, with their lives indicate a path to follow Christ and invite us to pray all the time, along with them, to the one Father.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see Jesus because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
The listeners are “some who presumed of being righteous and despised the others.” They are not the Pharisees of Jesus’ time but the Christians of Luke’s community. It is in them that the dangerous Pharisaical mentality is insinuated. The parable is directed to the Christians of all times because the idea of ‘meriting’ before God is profoundly rooted in the person.
Prayer must not be a way to force God to do our will. Why are we invited to turn to him persistently? What is the meaning of prayer? To these questions, Jesus responds today with a parable (vv. 1-5) and with application to the community's life (vv. 6-8). The parable starts with the presentation of personages.
Jesus is the first to grasp that God is not far from the lepers truly. He does not escape nor reject them. He knew what he must say to those who institutionalized the marginalization of the lepers in the name of God to get over with religion that excludes, judges, and condemns impure persons! In Jesus, the Lord appeared in their midst; he touches and heals them.
Jesus considers both greed for goods of this world and honestly earned wealth as almost insurmountable obstacles to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The deceitfulness of wealth chokes the seed of the Word (Mt 13:22); it tends to gradually conquer the whole human heart and leave no space for God nor the neighbor. Blessed is he who makes himself poor, who is no longer anxious for what he will eat or drink, who does not worry about clothes and does not get restless for tomorrow (Mt 6:25-34). Blessed is he who shares all that he has with his brothers/sisters.
An administrator is a person who often appears in the parables of Jesus. We have one ‘faithful and wise’ who does not act arbitrarily but uses the goods entrusted to him according to the owner's will. In the absence of the master, we also have another one who takes advantage of his position to ‘make himself the owner’ gets drunk and dishonors the other servants (Lk 12:42-48). There is the enterprising administrator, who commits himself, dares to risk, and makes the master’s capital gain profit, and then there is the one who is a slacker.
The crucifix is a symbol with which Christians manifest their faith, yet for three centuries it was intentionally not used. Believers recognised themselves as such in other symbols - the anchor, the fish, the bread, the dove, the shepherd - but shied away from recognising the cross as a symbol because it evoked the infamous death of their Master, a death reserved for slaves and bandits, and was also one of the reasons why pagans mocked Christians.
The three parables emphasize the complementary aspects of conversion. The first two stress God’s initiative, not man’s, in the conversion process. It is God who is always looking for those who are lost. The parable of the ‘prodigal son’ (Lk 15:11-32) highlights God's respect for human freedom. The Father does not force his children to stay indoors nor even compels them to return: He can wait!
A Christian does not aspire for pain (even Jesus did not seek it) but love. However, when love is "lived up to the end" (Jn 13:1), it becomes a gift of life. That is why the cross, from a sign of death, becomes a symbol of life. Until the end of the 3rd century, the Christian symbols were the anchor, the fisherman, and the fish but never the cross. It is only in the 4th century.
Jesus asks the disciples to love freely, to do good in pure loss. He recommends welcoming home those who cannot give anything in return. God will provide the reward in heaven. This statement needs clarification. The call to help the poor, thinking of the wealth accumulated in heaven, can still be selfish behavior. It is using the poor to ‘transfer one’s capitals to heaven.’ This love is detestable; it is sneaky.
The path to the banquet of the Kingdom of God is not an easy walk. The road that leads there is narrow, and the door—Jesus says—is constricted and hard to find. This statement does not contradict the optimistic and joyful message of the prophets who proclaim universal salvation. Yes, all will arrive, but it would be better to get there in time for the banquet.
Mary is remembered for the last time in the New Testament at the beginning of the book of Acts: in prayer, surrounded by the apostles and the first Christian community (Acts 1:14). Then this sweet and reserved woman leaves the scene, as silent and discreet as she had entered, and we know nothing more about her; the canonical texts do not mention where she spent the last years of her life or how she left this earth. From the sixth century onwards, numerous versions of a single theme, the Dormition of Our Lady, spread among Christians.
Jesus warned his disciples: "If the world hates you, remember that the world hated me before you. This would not be so if you belonged to the world because the world loves its own" (Jn 15:18-19). He calmed their perplexed and vacillating spirits, recalling that a dramatic destiny puts together, for always, all the just ones. "Remember, that is how the ancestors of this people treated the prophets. Alas for you when people speak well of you, for that is how the ancestors of these people treated the false prophets".