That day, after going up and down a number of hills, God’s messenger, holding his trumpet underneath his arm, arrived in the valley of Josaphat… In springtime, the whole valley was clothed with green grass, while a stream of crystalline water ran in silence. The messenger, satisfied, gave a smile, greeted the newly born sun, and began to scale the stone walls rising beside the valley… Upon reaching the topmost part of the walls, he rested himself on the corner stone, took a deep breath, then blew his trumpet… The ears of the world listened. All sleepy eyes opened and the earth’s inhabitants, from the greatest to the least, knew that the hour of reckoning with God had come.
Then, the messenger cupped his hands and yelled….
Messenger: Hear ye everyone!…. Make haste!…. Everyone must come to the valley of Josaphat!…. This is Judgment Day! The big day has come and the Lord will judge all nations, and all people who have lived under the sun, from Adam to the last son born of the woman on earth….
The messenger descended the pinnacle of the walls and headed toward the middle part of the valley, where a date palm tree grew. Under its green and shining foliage he spread a sheep skin, which served as a rug. Then, with the help of a knife, he made a wooden stool out of the branches of the tree. That was to be the throne where the Lord would judge all nations of the earth.
When the messenger lifted his eyes, he saw the first caravans coming out of the horizon. Behind them were groups of men and women, old men with white beards, and children being carried by the arms, multitudes of people heading toward the valley of Josaphat to be part of the great judgment of God. The messenger went to receive them….
Messenger: Who are you and where do you come from?
Egyptian: We are from the land of the pharaohs and the pyramids. We are Egyptians, children of a great nation and as numerous as the sands in our deserts.
Messenger: Which god did you worship in your life?
Egyptian: The only true god! Osiris, the son of god, the judge of the living and the dead! Here we are, Osiris, your servants!
Messenger: Okay, this way please, and take your seats over there, on the grass.
Messenger: Who is your god?
Chaldean: The only true one, and our protector, Marduck, lord and master of history, who is reborn with the new year! Marduck, here we are, your sons and daughters, the Assyrians and the Babylonians!
The people from Mesopotamia proceeded to the valley. They were garbed in hemp reach and were wearing blue turbans, as blue as the heavens that they wanted to reach through the tower of Babel.
Messenger: And where did you come from?
Greek: We came over the great sea, passing by many islands. We are Greeks of the land of wise men and artists, born under the shadow of Parnassus.
Messenger: For whom are you looking?
Greek: For Zeus, the powerful god, he who sits at the sacred Olympus. We’re looking for Hermes, Dionysus and Aphrodite… for the thousands of gods that our fathers worshipped and an unknown god whose name we don’t even know yet….
The Egyptians entered the valley of Josaphat, dressed in green tunics, as green as the fertile soil of the Nile.
Chaldean: We come from Mesopotamia. From the land embracing the two rivers, and which has cradled seven empires.
So the Greeks entered too, in their white tunics, as white as the marble columns that adorned their temples.
Roman: We come from Rome, the master of the world. Seven seas witnessed our birth and a she-wolf had nursed us. We are a warlike people. Mars was our god, with his military helmet and a lance. As a matter of fact, we were not too interested in the other gods.
Like a great army, the Romans crossed the valley and then sat on the grass. They were dressed in red cloaks, as red as the blood of the innocent victims of their emperors….
So it was that hundreds of nations and thousands of peoples from the four corners of the earth came, cramming together in the valley of Josaphat, each bringing the color of their religion, and asking about their god. Then came another group, from a small nation….
Messenger: Who are you? Where do you come from?… and where are you going?
Jew: You mean you don’t know us? We are the sons and daughters of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. We came from the Jerusalem of the earth and we’re undertaking our journey to the Jerusalem in heaven.
Messenger: Well, you’ve got to wait. The great judgment is about to take place here.
Jew: Wait for what? We are circumcised in the name of the God of Israel, the only true God. Where’s Yahweh, the God of our fathers? Answer me!
The messenger did not reply. He just showed them the valley. And the children of Israel, like a flock in search of their shepherd, also passed through the valley, and just like the rest, looked for their place around the date palm tree. They were dressed in tunics with black and white stripes, 613 stripes all in all, like the commandments of the law of Moses.
Messenger: Let’s see. Those at the end… come, come, and hurry up. Judgment is about to begin… Who are you, may I ask?
Atheist: Who, we?…. Well, we are… people.
Messenger: Which god did you worship in life?
Atheist: No one. We never believed in these things….
Messenger: So, why are you here?
Atheist: That’s precisely what we want to know. Anyway, what else can we do, since we were dragged here?…
Messenger: Then, come in and take your seat. God is waiting for you.
Atheist: God? What God?…. Which of them?
But the messenger did not say anything, instead he pointed to the center of the valley, where, very soon, the great king would take his place in order to judge all the nations of the earth. A huge multitude pervaded the valley of Josaphat. All eyes were fixed on the small wooden throne which remained empty.
Egyptian: But, what’s going on here? Until when do we have to wait?
A Woman: Where’s Osiris, the god of the Egyptians?
Chaldean: What Osiris are you talking about? Marduck! Where is the god of the Mesopotamians?
Greek: Something must have happened to him… Zeus of the Olympus is never late.
Another Woman: Neither is Aphrodite!
Jew: Yahweh, God of Israel, open the heavens and come down soon! Where are you? Where do you hide yourself?
Atheist: We told you so…. There is no god. The throne will remain empty.
Messenger: Silence! Silence! Observe silence, please!
The messenger ran and went up to the pinnacle again, where he had a full view of the entire valley which was by then filled with a sea of impatient people.
Messenger: Please observe silence, everyone! Here no one is supposed to judge anyone….. Hey, give way, please…. Can’t you see he’s coming? Give way!…
But the multitude continued talking among one another and invoking their respective gods. They did not notice the thin young man, whose robe was full of patches and was making his way among the people…. He was carrying a walking cane and he looked very tired…. Finally, after much shoving, the man reached the center where the date palm tree with resplendent foliage was located. He wiped his sweat, approached the stool… and took his seat.
Roman: Hey, who’s that insolent guy sitting on the throne of the Most High?
A Woman: Hey, you, snotty-nosed, what’re you doing there? Do you feel faint? Bear with us and stand like the rest of us. You’re not any better than anyone here!… Just look at him…!
Then after blowing the trumpet, the messenger finally obtained a little silence.
Messenger: The judgment of nations will now begin. Take off your tunics, your cloaks and your turbans, everything!
Jew: What is this nut saying? If we remove our clothes, then who will know who is who?
A Woman: Precisely! We may be together but we don’t have to mess around with each other!
Messenger: Shut up and comply!
The multitude grudgingly obeyed that order and, in one corner of the valley, a tower of yellow clothes, with red cloaks and blue turbans, with tunics of various colors began to rise. The messenger sprinkled the tower with sulphur and set it on fire…. Instantly, at the snap of a finger, the smoke went up the sky. Only the ashes remained….
All men, big and small, those who have traveled from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, remained naked before the throne of God…. Then the thin man, seated under the shadow of the date palm tree, stood up, with the help of his cane and began to speak….
Young Man: Friends, I apologize for having made you wait… reason is… I have just been released from jail and I was a bit exhausted. I was imprisoned for quite a long time, and was transferred from one jail to another. I was jobless for many years, knocking from door to door… yes, I also tilled the soil, but the land was not mine…. I have sown for centuries in a foreign land… I have sweated it out in various shops, worked like a beast in many textile mills, swallowed so much dust in mines… only to earn a measly sum of money, not even enough to tide me over my hunger. I had to sleep in the open, as there was nowhere to sleep…. I was helpless, trembling with fever… without even a piece of rag to put on my forehead. I have roamed all over the world… I have been born in shanties and perished in wars. I have traversed mountains of misery before I finally came here… I have sailed in seas of tears just to be with you today. You remember me, don’t you?… Or you do not know who I am? Don’t you recognize me?
Then silence ensued for about half an hour… All the inhabitants of the earth gathered in the valley of Josaphat tried to recall where they had seen the young man, as his face was very familiar to them….
Egyptian: Isn’t he Martin, the guy who came that night, begging for a plate of soup?
Atheist: No, man. He’s Lallus, the activist who incited the farmers to go on strike. He was beaten afterwards….
A Woman: This is odd! I met a widow who looked very much like him!
Amid all the discussion everyone heard a deep, resounding voice, like the voice of rushing waters from above, alongside the sun….
God: What you have done unto him, you have done unto me. What you have not done unto him, you have not done unto me.
Then the man seated on the stool covered by sheepskin raised his cane. It was like a shepherd’s staff. With that, he separated the huge multitude before him; some he put on one side, and the rest, on the other side…
Chaldean: Hey, wait a minute, what about all the sacrifices I made in the name of God, huh?
A Woman: And the prayers we said day and night?
Greek: I burned incense, lighted candles, went to temples and knelt before the altars!
But the man with the staff in his hand, replied….
Young Man: That doesn’t matter anymore.
Jew: Lord, Lord, we spoke in your name, we preached in your name, and in your name we even performed miracles!
Young Man: Who are you? I don’t know you!
Jew: You don’t know me? How can you ever say that? I was the high priest of the Temple!
Egyptian: I was a doctor and teacher of the Law!
Roman: And I was the king of four empires!
But the young man replied again….
Young Man: That doesn’t matter anymore.
Once again, the heavens opened and the deep voice of the unseen God was heard anew, that of the only true God whose name is mystery and whose face no mortal has ever seen….
God: Those on this side, you may go away now. It never mattered to you if your brothers and sisters suffered hunger, cold and misery or not. Go away…. You, on this side, come with me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink. You opened the doors of your houses when I needed shelter to spend the night. You consoled me when I was sick, when I was in jail…. You fought for justice…. You cared for your brothers and sisters…. It doesn’t matter which god you have worshipped… come with me!
Then the messenger ran, scaled the walls and blew his trumpet for the last time….
Messenger: The judgment is over! This is the beginning of Eternity!
And from the pinnacle, God’s messenger saw how all the peoples of the world were grouped into two… only two… and they began to walk through the two roads, only two. It was almost nightfall, and once again the valley remained deserted, as it was in the beginning.
We have heard Jesus tell this story in the Jerusalem Temple’s atrium, Jerusalem, beside the Golden Door, facing the valley of Cedron, also known to our countrymen as the valley of Josaphat.
The parable of the “last judgment” is one of the most significant in the gospel. It deals with the last day of history, of God’s final judgment of human beings. The last judgment, to the people’s mind, is replete with a multitude of legends and plastic representations. Jesus’ description in the gospel of this last day is essential to understanding the novelty of the evangelical message. We are faced with one of the basic texts that synthesize the essential aspects of Christian theology.
Israel’s tradition is situated in the so-called “Valley of Josaphat,” the place where the final judgment was to take place (Jl 4:2 and 12). Josaphat means “God judges.” This was only symbolic and not geographic. About four hundred years after Christ, this valley began to be associated with Cedron Valley, which separates the Mount of Olives from the southeastern zone of Jerusalem. According to this tradition of many generations, a number of Israelites have wished to be buried in the Cedron Valley. At present, this area surrounding the walls of Jerusalem is a very extensive cemetery. Several tombs are directed toward the gates of the holy city, and there, the faithful Jews who passed away with this belief, expect to be the first to resurrect on the day of judgment of all nations.
The grandiose image we sometimes make of this day is practically lacking in this episode. God’s angels are no more than a little messenger with infantile voice, whose solemn trumpet is a hoarse-sounding horn, and God’s throne is nothing but a wooden stool, etc. The solemnity of the final word of God at the end of human history is delivered in the most austere and most elementary and most impoverished manner. As it happened to Jesus – where God revealed himself to us in a definitive manner, the final judgment shall also be the confirmation of the gospel: God’s presence in the poor, with Jesus forever identified with them. The people mentioned in this episode are those who, in Jesus’ time or in previous centuries, had greatly influenced the course of history. The Egyptians and the Chaldeans formed the two major cultures in ancient times. They excelled in astronomy, arithmetic, and architecture. They produced sages and philosophers from among them. The Greeks, who were closer to the evangelical times, are the fathers of a civilization that decisively influenced the entire Europe with their very significant discoveries in all fields of endeavor: medicine, history, philosophy, mathematics, physics, biology, politics, etc. The contemporaries of Jesus were the Romans, who were known principally in the field of law, architecture, and military organization. Another great nation mentioned in the final judgment is Jesus’ country, Israel, which brought to humanity, among other things, the unwavering faith in the one true God who intervenes in the course of history. In our time, it would be: the North-Americans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Germans… that is, considering only the great political and economic powers of our present time. Considering however, the major religious groups, then there would be the Christians (Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox), the Muslims (Arab countries of different nationalities), the Jews (to the present faithful up a number of traditions and laws of the birthplace of Jesus). Among them too (and they appear in the episode) would be the atheists, those who have no faith in God either in this life or after death. These differences in race or nationality will no longer matter on the day of the final judgment. One’s beliefs or disbeliefs will no longer count, but what people have done or not done for their brothers and sisters. This shall be the unifying element of all human beings of all times. There will no longer be robes of different colors. Everyone shall appear naked before God, with just one thing to show: their works/acts of justice.
There are three theological ideas that are essential to this evangelical text on the last judgment. First, that human life means fellowship, the union of all men and women. We were created by God to become brothers and sisters. It is on this basis that we shall be judged. We shall be judged for the love that we have shown for others, and for our ability to create an atmosphere of unity in this world. Second, this love is not an abstract idea, a nice feeling or an affectionate word. It consists of concrete deeds: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, a visit to the prison walls…. Doing all this is not necessarily for the “love of God.” It is enough to do it for the “love of humans.” This being so, then this is being done in the fullness of and in accordance with the will of God. And this is the third basic idea: God will not judge us for what we have done “to God.” No one loves God nor directly offends God. We love and offend God in each other (1 Jn 4:19-21). Humans are God’s sacraments, the necessary mediation and the only way to relate to the Divine.
No one shall be judged on the basis of doctrine, religious beliefs, and dogmas. These differences among the existing religious groups at present are not fundamental. A deeper and more serious dialogue would make us see how we can be, at times, with one another without realizing it. No one will be judged either because of his or her acts of worshipping the Lord: prayers, acts of penitence, vows, novenas, ejaculations, first Friday devotions, scapularies, vigils. These will not matter in the end. What will matter is when you feed the hungry, you give a drink to the thirsty, and you clothe the naked…. Such simple and basic “acts of charity” shall be our salvation. Jesus will consider these acts as having been done to himself – and to God himself – whatever it is that we shall have done to others. This idea is essential to God’s message to us.
We have to avoid looking at this love and acts of service from a purely individualistic dimension. Our neighbor is not only the individual man or woman. Today more than ever, our “neighbor” is taken in a collective sense. They comprise the majority of our people, the exploited class of society, the marginalized races, the oppressed. Pope Pius XII had already spoken of a “political charity.” Feeding the hungry is not giving a plate of food, this being a necessity notwithstanding. Feeding the hungry means to enable the people to have something to eat and therefore, what is necessary is not so much acts of benevolence, but a transformation of the economic structures which prevent a majority from having enough to eat.
This would thus be true for all acts