The Lectionary Reading today on this first Monday in Lent is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It is Jesus Himself describing the Final Judgment. (http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/25:31)
I like it for much of the reasons I like Jesus – he turns everything upside down and demands we look at it in a new way from a new point of view. First, Jesus turns the Judgment upside down by not focusing on the things on which most people seem to focus when they project into the future and envision the Judgment. Most people judge each other by the “sins” or the “wrongs” or the “bad things” that they perceive others doing. The result is that homosexuals go to hell; Liberals go to hell; unwed mothers go to hell; anyone that someone does not like goes to hell. But the human judgment is based on the concept of “I think you are a sinner, so you’re going to hell.” But Jesus nowhere lists the “bad things” or the “sinful behavior” of anyone. Jesus lists the good things – the expressions of love – that people either do, or do not do. Jesus condemns no one for the “bad” they do; He condemns them for the good they do not do.”
But there is another reason I like this passage that extends beyond the challenge of Jesus to reexamine our own sense of justice and judgment. Jesus is not only challenging our criteria for judgment (usually in the judging of others), but he is challenging the whole concept of Judgment. The Final Judgment is not a judgment, but a challenge! It is a challenge to see Jesus in the face of the powerless, the poor, the hopeless, the suffering, and in the faces of those people we despise.
Jesus presents us with a choice. We can continue to limit our understanding of Him and God and judgment as some future allotment of rewards and punishments, or we can REPENT – change our understanding – and see judgment as the radical challenge set before us by Christ Himself to see Jesus Christ forever present with us – NOT IN SACRAMENTS OR LITURGY OR PRAYER OR IN BIBLE PASSAGES, BUT IN THE POOR AND SUFFERING IN THE WORLD.
Jesus Christ calls us to be His Disciples. Charity is not discipleship. Volunteering is not discipleship. Going to church and making donations are not discipleship. Acts of piety or even religious devotions are not discipleship. Learning to see Christ in the lowest of the low is discipleship. Learning to love those people we would deem unworthy is discipleship.
I don’t care how often you go to church. I don’t care how often you pray. I don’t care how much you place in a collection plate. I don’t care what acts of piety and charity you may do either privately or publicly. If you do not love the poor, you do not love Christ. If you do not love the hungry, you do not love Christ. If you despise the needy, the sick, the homeless – if you despise those on welfare, or those who get food stamps, or those receiving Obamacare and having medical insurance for the first time ever, then you despise Christ.
The King of Heaven and Earth, who has ALL power in Heaven and on Earth, and who has ALL authority in Heaven and on Earth does not decree that you serve Him by bowing and groveling to an all-powerful Despot, but he demands you serve Him by seeing Him in the face of the powerless, the despondent, the down and out, the hopeless, the scum of the earth, the takers, the lazy cheats, the 49% — whatever probably derogatory term you have reserved for those people in society that you have already judged, and judged to be unworthy of you, let alone of God and God’s grace.
The One who has ALL Power identifies with those who have NO power. He tells us to serve Him by serving them. Perhaps this is what Christ means when He tells us that those who are faithful with little things will be faithful with a lot — those who are faithful in serving the Christ in the lowly will be faithful in serving the Christ who is King.