In the parable of the last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), we read these words:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
In the Gospel text, the king speaks to both those on his right hand (the sheep, the blessed, the righteous) and to those on his left (the goats, the cursed, the unrighteous) in the 2nd person, familiar. Both those judged blessed and those judged cursed also speak to the king in the 2nd person, familiar [using the more informal, “thee” instead of the more formal “you” – this distinction exists in the Greek but is no longer used in modern English]. This does suggest that not only are the king and his subjects on familiar/ friendly terms, but almost equal terms. They speak to each other not in respectful formal language, but in the language of equals and people who recognize each other as familiar acquaintances.
This of course adds to the parable, because both the blessed and the cursed cannot recall ever having ministered or failed to minister to the king. They both seem to be saying that if we had seen you or recognized you we would have ministered to you, but we don’t remember ever seeing you at all. The one denies having seen and ministered to the king, the other denies having seen and failed to minister to the king.
And what the parable appears to be getting at is that the judgment is based upon not how everyone served the king or the king’s representatives, but how they treated people whom they did not recognize. It is how they treated people who did not remind them of their king for whom they are called into judgment. It is how they treat the stranger, the foreigner and the alien which is essential to the king in his forming judgment of his subjects.
If the subjects speak to the king on such familiar terms (and he to them as well), how is it possible they didn’t recognize the king in their neighbors or in strangers?
The blessed, even though they don’t see their king in the poor and needy, treat these downtrodden with love and respect. They don’t withhold what is in their power to give because they don’t recognize the people in need. They act toward them honorable, morally and generously, rather than reacting to them as unknowns to be feared or hated. They treat the unknown strangers as they would treat their king if they found him in need. (see also yesterday’s blog, Love as an Action Verb, Not a Feeling Noun)
The cursed on the other hand because they don’t recognize the poor and needy withhold from them charity and what they are capable of giving to them or doing for them. Simply because those downtrodden are strangers or unrecognizable, the cursed react to them with indifference or perhaps even hostility. The cursed never move beyond their initial reaction – they never chose to act toward the needy to meet their desperate needs because they had reacted negatively to them.
Neither the blessed or the cursed are judged for failing to have recognized their king. The judgment falls on them both for the way they treated those they didn’t recognize – those not familiar to them.
[See also my blog of 2 days ago, The Good Defense Before the Dread Judgment Seat: Hospitality, in which St. Gregory the Great connects the parable of the Last Judgment to the 2 disciples walking to Emmaus after the resurrection. Though disciples of Jesus, they fail to recognize him as He walks with them and talks to them. It is in their showing charity to Him by inviting Him to eat with them that they suddenly recognize Him.]