37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~Matthew 25:37-40
Not long ago I heard a radio personality criticizing the religious right in our country. He cited Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-40 and claimed that this was the one verse where Jesus explained how salvation is won. Well, thank God this pundit was wrong.
We know that nothing we can do or fail to do will get us into heaven, it is only by believing in Jesus and what He did on the cross that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9).
Be that as it may, genuine, sincere religion cares for the widows and orphans (James 1:27), it doesn't just say "yeah, I'm saved" and then go on being selfish and short-sighted. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." and then in Matthew 19:21 He told the young religious scholar, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
One of my big problems with contemporary Christianity is that we're just about identity, not about purpose. We say, "we're saved, they're not," and want to leave it at that. Jesus is our ticket to the afterlife, but if you consider Him a role model, an example, a teacher and any kind of a social reformer or revolutionary- well then, you're trivializing Him, you're missing the point- He's not those things, He's the very Son of God. He IS God.
Well, yeah, but just because He didn't come to just shake things up, he came to die for my sins, doesn't have to mean that he can't also be a role model, a teacher and a leader too. Doe sit?
The guy on the radio was pointing out how hypocritical it is for those of us who call ourselves Christian to be absolutely incensed at the sin of abortion- calling for the protection of the rights of the unborn but shamefully complacent, ignorant and apathetic when it comes to the lives, living conditions, and rights of millions of poor and oppressed peoples after they've been born.
He was wrong about what the requirements for salvation are, but he was right about the fact that too often too many of us take the rest of humanity for granted. We assume that life is about accumulating stuff for ourselves and our immediate family and defending that stuff from other people who have no right to our stuff! And by God, the government had better keep it's hands of our stuff too! We forget that all that stuff, and all the other people, (and our own selves too- for that matter) all belong to God.
Maybe a week later a student in one of my classes was explaining to someone how "everyone misinterprets John 3:16, that it doesn't really mean that God sent His son so that whoever believes in Him can be saved- that's too easy, no god in his right mind would do that!"
I couldn't believe my ears. Never had I more wished I was back in a parochial school instead of a public one so that I could preach, teach, and reach that mistaken kid. Again, it is nothing we do, nothing we ever could do, it is only by Jesus' suffering, His death, His resurrection by which we are saved.
But, again, this passionate teen did have one thing right. It's not enough to just be saved. Oh, don't get me wrong. I can not in any way shape or form EVER save myself. Only Jesus' grace IS sufficient for that. But Jesus doesn't want to be just our Savior. He wants to be our Lord too. As in "Lord AND Savior, Jesus Christ."
Yes, if deists and agnostic's perception of Jesus was all there was, we would be lost. But if we say be believe in Jesus and look forward to the afterlife but fail to follow His example in this life? What good is that?
"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." James 2:19. We could learn a lot by considering how those deists, agnostics, bleeding-hear do-gooders, and even how Buddhists, and so-called "socialists" perceive Jesus.
He told us not just to believe in Him, but to follow Him. So, what did Jesus do? Did He cheat on His taxes? Did He preemptively take out potential enemies? Did He spend His life defending his hard-earned possessions, His good name, and the positions of influence He'd achieved? Hell no! He gave it ALL away. He touched the untouchables, associated with the unacceptable, fed the hungry, healed the sick, loved the dispossessed, had compassion on the hurting, challenged the smug and arrogant, washed people's feet, and finally laid down His life.
It is a shame that some people follow His teachings and example, but don't really know Him personally. It's even more of a shame if they don't believe He came to save them. Pray that God will open their eyes.
But it is almost just as much a shame that so many of us believe in Him, but fail to follow where He trod, fail to see others the way He sees them. How can we say that we know Him when we don't act anything like Him?
Think about that Evangelical catch phrase, "personal lord and savior?"
Is he BOTH your savior AND your lord? Are you BOTH believing AND following?
Is it personal? It is to Him.
Here are just a handful of links for organizations that can help you help others:
Feed the hungry- Bread for the World, Heifer International
Mind you, this is a sanitary, safe, hands-free way to do unto the least of these, but you've got to start somewhere. The best ways are local, perhaps through your own church or civic organizations.
Even better is on the ground level, not just donating money or clothes, but volunteering our time, our presence. After all,the best way to break down barriers and build up communities is to get to know real people who are hungry, thirsty, need shelter, healing, love and comfort.
The best way to open our eyes and hearts to the hurting and disaffected is be among them and get to know them as human beings, neighbors, brothers and sisters.
Every year I challenge myself to write some sort of devotions, Bible studies, prayers, or commentary on this blog more regularly during Lent. Some years I'm more disciplined, others I'm about as sporadic as the rest of the year. This year I'd like to write a series of essays on the Gospel of Matthew, I call them "Door Matts," because it's the first book in the New Testament, it's sort of the welcome mat, the gateway-drug, if you will, into Christianity.
These may not go in any particular order. This first one covered passages toward the end of the book. It fits pretty well with the overall goals of this blog- a potent blend of Orthodox (conservative) Theology and Progressive (liberal) Politics. Be prepared when I riff on Jesus' "7 Woes" sermon against hypocrisy in Matt. 23! I've wrote a lot on this blog about Matthew Chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount. Hopefully, we'll dig up plenty of pirate's treasure as we weigh anchor and delve into the headwaters of God's living waters!