We all know how the Bible begins. The first words are “in the beginning…” and from there follows the story of Creation. From God’s first command, “Let there be light”, the world springs into being.
However, we might not be as familiar with how the Bible ends. If not, today’s second reading tells us since it proclaims to us the very last verses of the very last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. In it, Jesus promises us that He will come again. The same one who came down from heaven to save us, rose from the dead and has now ascended to the right hand of the Father will return. As we hear at the beginning of the reading. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon” and later on He repeats the promise, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
The Bible ends with a promise - Jesus will came again to reveal Himself as the Lord of all. Since the first day of creation, God’s presence among us has been hidden. But, when the earth comes to an end, all people will come to know that God exists, that He loves us and that He has saved us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Coming down from heaven on the clouds with glory, it will be clear to all what the truth is. There will be no more room for doubt.
The reading from the Book of Revelation also reveals what will happen when Jesus comes again, “I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” In other words, as we profess in the Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Before bringing all time and history to its fulfillment, Jesus will call each one of us to stand before Him and give an account of our lives.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace” (CCC 682).
Hearing these words, our first instinct might be to feel afraid. And that is an appropriate reaction. None of us is perfect. All of us have sinned. We work hard to hide our faults and weaknesses from each other and so it is frightening to think that they will one day all be revealed.
Jesus is a good and just judge. As such, He loves the truth and, because He loves us, He will never lie to us. When we stand before Him, He will examine our hearts and be honest with us about how we have failed. Like a doctor who honestly and thoroughly assesses the health of our bodies, Jesus will honestly and thoroughly judge the goodness or wickedness of our souls.
Therefore, we should live with an awareness that one day we will be judged. Imagine how different our lives would be if before every decision we asked ourselves, “How would I explain this action to Jesus? Would I be able to stand tall before Him or would I be left having to make excuses for myself?” How much more good would we accomplish if the first question we asked ourselves was not “What do I feel like doing?” but rather “What does God want me to do?”
At the same time, we should be aware how Jesus is going to judge us. What will He be looking for when He examines our souls? In the gospel of Matthew, we read the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, when Jesus says, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.” When we stand before Jesus in all His glory, He will be looking to see how mercifully we treated each other.
Saint James tells us, “Always speak and act as men destined for judgment under the law of freedom. Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not shown mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:12-13).
If we want Jesus to be merciful when He judges us, then we must show mercy to one another. That means forgiving one another readily. If we hold grudges and refuse to forgive, Jesus will not forgive us. As He taught us in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It also means practicing the works of mercy. When we feed the hungry and visit the sick, we are feeding and visiting Jesus, and He will not forget it when we stand before Him. All those we have shown kindness to will stand by our side to witness to Jesus to the love we have shown them.
While it is natural for us to feel some fear at the thought of standing before the judgment seat of Christ, we have some reason for confidence - not in ourselves but in the love of Jesus. The same Jesus we will stand before loved us enough to die on the cross for our sins. There are not enough good deeds we can do in this life to balance out the sins we have committed or to earn us a place in heaven. Jesus did that for us on the cross. He does not want to belittle us or humiliate us. Rather, by showing us our true selves in judgment, He wants us to realize how much we need Him so that we will be able to accept His mercy and forgiveness.
In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ prayer to the Father. In it He says, “Father, they are your gift to me.” Imagine that - Jesus considers you and me to be a gift to Him! Then He goes on to say, “I wish that where I am they also may be with me.” Jesus’ deep desire is that we be with Him in Heaven. This should give us great confidence and an unshakeable hope. It should also motivate us to practice mercy so that, when we do stand before Him, we can hope to receive mercy in return from our Good and Just Judge, Jesus Christ, when He returns in glory.