Judge of the living and the dead
The injustices of this life
One of the first things you find out in life is that you don’t get what you deserve – which sometimes, perhaps, is just as well! At home, at school and when you go out to work, you get blamed for what someone else has done; or you break something by accident and you are punished for doing it on purpose. And then, when you work hard and do something good, perhaps no one even notices it. So everything seems very unfair. Of course it’s also true that there are times when you do what you know is wrong, and are not found out – but I guess you know all about that.
There are few things that make us so angry as unfairness. It may be a small thing. Perhaps at football an opponent scores a goal when he or she is offside, and the referee doesn’t notice it and gives the goal. It may be a big thing, such as someone cheating your parents out of some money and ‘getting away with it’, and we feel very angry about it. The writer of one of the Psalms felt exactly the same. “…I saw the prosperity of the wicked…They are not in trouble as others are…” (NRSV, 73:3,5). We seem to know without being told that wrong should be punished and right rewarded.
Of course, in the law courts people are fairly treated and as a rule are given what they deserve. If someone is accused of breaking the law and is found guilty, the judge orders him or her to be punished. On the other hand, people who are found to be innocent are set free by the judge.
But one can do all sorts of nasty things without ever coming before a judge or seeing the inside of a law court, and in fact we shall have to wait until the end of the world for everyone to get what he or she deserves.
Judge of living (quick) and dead
On the day on which this world ends Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. In the Prayer Book version of the Creed, the word ‘quick’ is used instead of ‘living’. We sometimes talk of fingernails being cut or bitten to the quick – the part of the nail which is alive. So the quick and the dead means those who will be alive on the day Jesus comes again and those who will have already died.
Jesus will judge us, not only for all the things we have done, the good and bad and the big and the little things, but also for the things which we ought to have done and never did.
What we think, and say and do make us what we are. If people think and do kind and generous things they become kind and generous people. If people do mean and spiteful things they become mean and spiteful. What a person does affects his or her character.
Jesus said that when he comes to judge the world the people of every nation shall be gathered before him, and “he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…” (NRSV, Matthew 25:32). So Jesus is comparing the way a shepherd divides his sheep and goats at the end of the day. He stands at the entrance to the pens and, as they struggle to get past him in the fading light, he turns the sheep into the right hand pen and the goats into the left hand one. So at the end of the world, Jesus will sit on his throne of glory, and everyone shall see him, and he shall set the good by themselves on one side, and the bad by themselves on the other.
As soon as we die we appear before Jesus and so he will already have passed judgement then on our lives and resulting characters. But whereas that judgement will be individual and private – we shall be alone with him – the judgement at the Last Day will be general and public. In this way everyone will see that God is just and true, because it is not enough for justice to be done, it must also be seen to be done.