Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Good Muslim

Luke 10:25-37
A Bible professor approached Jesus, wishing to test his teaching. He asked, “Teacher, what should I do to obtain God’s life that never ends?” Jesus said, “What does it say in the Bible? How do you understand it?” The professor answered, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind. And you will love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, impressed, replied, “This is correct. Live this out, and eternal life is yours.” But knowing he had not lived this out—and had no intention to—but wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “But, really, who is my neighbor?” Jesus sighed and responded, “There was a man traveling from Washington D.C. to New York and some terrorists kidnapped him, stripped his clothes off and beat him half to death, leaving by the side of the road, helpless. Now it so happened that a Mennonite pastor passed by, and he saw him. But, thinking he was a homeless bum, he ignored him and went on his way. Then a Baptist worship leader drove by the same spot, but since he was in a hurry to make it on time to his worship service, he also ignored him and made it to the service on time. Then a Muslim drove by and saw the man laying on the side of the road. Compassion welled up in his heart and he stopped, got out his first aid kit, covered his wounds, put him in his car (getting blood all over the new seats) and drove him to the hospital. There he told the doctor, “If he doesn’t have any insurance, here’s my credit card number—just take it from my account.’ Now,” Jesus concluded, “Which of these was the neighbor to man attacked by terrorists?” The professor said, “The M- the one who had compassion on him.” Jesus smiled and looked him in the eye, “Now you do the same.”
Do terrorists and Muslims really belong in this story?
Actually, they do! The Greek word “lestes” is often translated “robber.” But it actually means one who uses violence to achieve economic or political change, so one might translate it either as “revolutionary” or, possibly, “terrorist.” The Samaritans, on the other hand, are those who were similar to Jews—they worshipped the same God and had many of the same stories. But they had different centers of worship and they considered each other heretics. So if the original Jewish victim became an American Christian, who would the Samaritan be but a faithful Muslim? As far as D.C. and New York for Jerusalem and Jericho… well, that might be stretching it a bit.
The Th- Word
At some point or another, everyone has to deal with theology. It sounds scary (especially if you’ve heard of such words as dispensationalism and superlapsarian), but really its pretty simple—theology is just what we can say about God. Of course, Jesus then had a lot to say about theology. But whenever he wanted to get to the basics, to talk about what is most important to God and most important about our relationship with God, he gets back to these two commands: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s as basic as it gets.
Just Do It
But whenever any professor of theology or dogmatician tries to talk about theology, they do it on very different terms from Jesus. They always speak of “a doctrine statement” or a “confession of faith”. They emphasize what it is we believe about God. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But whenever Jesus spoke about theology, he spoke about action and relationship. Either he is speaking about what God does for us or what we do for God. Even his most basic statement “God is spirit” is followed by a command, “And those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). According to Jesus, God isn’t just someone who sits in heaven—he’s a person who interacts with his people, “God with us.” And we aren’t to be people who observe God like we would a tv screen—we are to be active participants with our theology. If we just believe about God in our head, that isn’t enough—we’ve got to have faith in our hands and feet. And so Jesus talked about a faith that is enacted in obedience and an obedience that is informed by faith. Just like sex and conception, you can’t have one without the other.
Two Relationships of Theology
So when Jesus tells us about theology, he says that in every aspect of it, there are two relationships. Theology, he says, isn’t something that happens in our head, it is a connection between (at least) two beings. First, there is the relationship between the human and God. And this relationship is defined by “love”, so whatever else you can say about this relationship, it is supposed to be positive, and not simply duty-based. Yes, we already know that there is obedience involved—after all, Jesus gave us commands—but the relationship behind these commands aren’t just that of slave to master. Rather, we are to have a positive relationship with God, one in which we both benefit from the process.
The second relationship is that between human and human. This is what is really odd. I mean, Jesus is speaking about theology—what we can say about God—and the very thing that Jesus puts in there is our relationship with other people. What do other people have to do with God? Well, two things. First of all, God is very concerned about people. I mean, He made them, and he gave them the earth to rule (Psalm 8). And he claims to love them all (John 3:16). Also, in this command, God is trying to help us PUT God into every relationship. Jesus is saying, “in your relationship with your neighbor, God is commanding it to be beneficial.” Thus, the relationship between human and human becomes theological, because God is forcing himself into that relationship (Ah, I know people like that…)
But what we need to realize in this basic of theology, is that Jesus is putting God and other human beings in everything we do religiously, theologically and spiritually. We cannot have a spirituality without God, according to Jesus. And we cannot have a faith without other people. If we claim to be doing something for God and it does not benefit others, then we do not have Jesus’ faith. Even so, if we attempt to do something for others and do not include God, then we do not have Jesus’ faith. Jesus’ theology is completely balanced between these two relationships—all has to do with both God and other people. To exclude one is to exclude true spirituality.
What is love of neighbor?
Well, we’d like to say more about loving God, but our teaching here by Jesus doesn’t give us any more than that it is love and it is God and well, that’s all that’s said. But the rest of the passage does talk quite a bit more about the love of neighbor. What exactly does it say?
Love of Neighbor isn’t exclusive
The professor wanted to exclude from the command everyone he didn’t like. Maybe he wanted to exclude heretics, or those who didn’t live in his country, or sinners or folks who did him wrong. But when Jesus asked his question, he made the professor answer that it was the Muslim—the heretic, the sinner, the foreigner, the persecutor—who was the neighbor. This means that if he was a neighbor, then EVERYONE is a neighbor, without exception. So the command involves every single human relationship we are in, without exception.
Love of Neighbor is demanded
Secondly, in Jesus’ story, he gave examples of two “good Christians” who didn’t follow the love of one’s neighbor. Thus, in Jesus’ story, although these people had a certain kind of faith, it wasn’t the kind that God was looking for. Their faith was practical and very pious, but it was wrong-headed. Because they thought that the love of God excluded them from the love of neighbor, then they were okay was NOT okay for God. God demands that the people who love Him also love those around them.
Love of Neighbor is compassion
The word that most defines the love of one’s neighbor is “compassion”. The Greek word for this is “splachna” which literally means “the feeling in your guts.” In other words, love is the gut-wrenching feeling you get when you see someone who is in need. To love someone is to recognize their need and to have compassion for it. No matter how evil they are, no matter how wrong-headed, compassion prevails in our attitude towards another.
Love of Neighbor is practical benefit
Lastly, when Jesus spoke about loving one’s neighbor, he was saying that the love was practical. The Muslim didn’t just pray a positive prayer for the man lying on the road. He didn’t just think good thoughts. Rather, he went out of his way to help him out in whatever way he could. He sacrificed his plans, his money and his vehicle to assist the stranger in need. Love doesn’t just stay in the heart (or the guts), but it gets out the pocketbook and gets dirty. Without being of practical benefit, it isn’t really love.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Worship Prayers

Come now, High King of heaven.
Come to us in flesh and bone.
Bring life to us who are weary with misery.
Bring peace to us who are overcome with weeping,
Whose cheeks are covered with bitter salt tears.
Seek us out, who are lost in the darkness of depression.
Do not forget us.
Have mercy on us.
Impart to us your everlasting joy,
So that we, who are fashioned by your hands,
May praise your glory.
-The Exter Book
Lord, have mercy on the suffering.
Give food to those who are hungry;
Give clothing to those who lack;
Give shelter to those who shiver in cold;
Give love to orphans and outcast;
Give comfort to abused women;
Give redemption to the oppressed;
Give assistance to those ravaged by war.
May you teach them to grow toward you
In light of the hardships they suffer.
And to all of these may you give your gospel
That they might attain your kingdom
Where their sufferings will be exchanged
For the joy of your loving presence.
Dear Lord
You suffered so much pain
In order to save us and all mankind from sin.
Yet we find it hard to bear even our minor pains.
Lord, because of your great pain
Have mercy on our little pains.
And if you wish us simply to bear our pains
Send us the patience
And the courage
That we lack.
Let us all become a true and faithful branch
On the vine Jesus
By accepting Him in our lives
As it pleases Him to come:
As the Truth—to be told
As the Life—to be lived
As the Light—to be lighted
As the Way—to be walked
As the Love—to be loved
As the Joy—to be given
As the Peace—to be spread
As the Sacrifice—to be offered
In our families
In our neighborhood,
In our city,
And in our world.
-Missionaries of Charity
O God
Since you created everything we can see, hear and touch,
May we constantly acknowledge your bounty.
And since you sustain everything we can see hear and touch,
May we always be mindful of your strength.
Thus may we walk the path of life
With a spirit of humility
Knowing that in all things we depend on you.
Plant in our hearts, Lord,
Such fear of your power
That we always strive to live according to your laws.
Let us always remember
That through You alone
Comes joy and happiness
And that without You
There is only misery and despair.
And thus may we learn to obey you in all things.
Whatever you make us desire for our enemies
Give it to them and give the same back to us.
You who are the true Light,
Lighten their darkness.
You who are the whole Truth,
Correct their errors.
You who are the incarnate Word,
Give life to their souls.
Tender Lord Jesus,
Let us not be stumbling blocks to them,
Nor rocks of offense.
We beg your mercy on our fellow slaves.
Let them be reconciled with you
And through you be reconciled to us.
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures
And meditate upon them day and night.
We beg you to give us a real understanding of what we need,
That we in turn may put its precepts into practice.
Yet we know that understanding and good intentions
Are worthless,
Unless rooted in your graceful love.
So we ask that the words of the Scriptures may also be
Not just signs on a page
But channels of grace into our hearts.
Holy Father
Allow us to be transformed into your mercy
And so be your living reflection.
May your mercy pass through our souls to our neighbors.
Help our eyes to be merciful
So we do not judge by appearances
But look for what is beautiful in our neighbor’s souls.
Help our ears to be merciful
So we give heed to our neighbor’s needs
Not being indifferent to their moanings.
Help our tongues to be merciful
So we never speak negatively of another
But have words of comfort for all.
Help our hands to be merciful
So that we do good to our neighbors
And take up ourselves the more difficult tasks.
Help our feet to be merciful
Overcoming our own weariness
Hurrying to assist our neighbors.
Help our hearts to be merciful
So we feel the sufferings of our neighbors
And refuse our hearts to no one.
May we be locked into the merciful heart of Jesus.
O God,
We come seeking you in our worship together.
We come to you for truth
Because we are untrue.
We come to you for strength
Because we are so weak.
We come to you for wisdom
Because we are unwise.
Move in our midst;
Show us your truth, your strength, and your wisdom,
Through our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Praise the One who hears the cry of the poor,
Who lifts up the weak and gives them strength.
Praise the One who feeds the hungry
And satisfies the longing of those in need.
Praise the One who holds with tenderness the orphan and widow
And gives the stranger a land and a home.
Merciful and loving Father,
We ask you with all our hearts
To bountifully pour out on our enemies
Whatever will be for their good.
Above all, give them a sound and uncorrupt mind
With which they might honor and love you
And also love us.
Do not let their hating us turn to their harm.
Lord, we desire their amendment and our own.
Do not separate them from us by punishing them;
Deal gently with them and join them to us.
Help us to see that we have all been called to be citizens
Of the everlasting city;
Let us begin to love each other now
Because love is the end we seek.
God of redemption and reconciliation—
You call us to live together in peace.
Look upon us and judge what we have done with our stewardship:
Witness the burned houses, meth labs, drug dealers, slumlords and prostitutes.
See the emptiness and the false promises
The alienation and despair
The injustice and oppressions
That bring these tragedies among us.
Heal this place,
God of mercy and forgiveness!
Send your love and grace upon all
Prostitutes, drug dealers, slumlords, loan sharks, bankers, lawyers and politicians.
Fill the emptiness that is the source of these sorrows
With love, peace, mercy and justice.
And give us courage so that we may show them your love.
Grant me the grace of a broken heart.
Allow me to understand the damage my sin does
to my relationship to you
and to those around me.
Cause me to so deeply regret my unloving, impure actions
that I cry and shamefully moan my confession.
I pray that I would so long for righteousness
that I would do whatever it takes,
sacrifice whatever I have
so that You could create righteousness within me.
Let me never be so arrogant or insensitive
to see my unloving or impure actions
as acceptable or understandable or excusable.
Rather, I cry out to you—
make me righteous,
make me holy or
remake me.
Let your Spirit so infuse me with your faith,
and humility
that it become my lifeblood,
my driving power,
my whole existence.
Crucify my flesh
that I might be like your Son in every way
Lord, help me face the truth about myself.
Help me hear my words as others hear them;
To see my face as others see me;
Let me be honest enough to recognize my impatience and conceit;
Let me recognize my anger and selfishness;
Give me sufficient humility to accept my own weaknesses for what they are.
Give me the grace to say, “I was wrong—forgive me.”
God of Jesus,
Center of all existence,
King of the universe,
I desire you alone.
I resolve to be filled with nothing but You alone—
For there is contentment in no other.
Let me not desire You and earthly security,
but You alone.
Let me not desire You and material possessions,
but You alone.
Let me not desire You and entertainments,
but You alone.
Let me not desire You and human love,
but You alone.
Let me not desire You and status,
but You alone.
May You be my inheritance,
You my sufficiency,
You my restoration,
You my rest.
Your kingdom,
your righteousness,
your will,
your glory,
Your praise,
your holiness,
your promises,
your love—
Your satisfaction only may I desire.
Please, exchange all my desires to be a pure desire for You.
O God, our true Life,
to know You is life
to praise you is the joy and happiness of the soul.
We praise and bless and adore You,
We worship You, I glorify You.
We give thanks to You for Your great glory.
We humbly beg You to live with us,
To reign in us
To make our hearts a holy temple,
A fit habitation for your divine majesty.
May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships
so that we may live deep within your heart
May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace
May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that we may reach out your hand to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy
And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
- A Franciscan Benediction


Down and Out Leadership

Luke 22:24-30
The disciples had an argument, there at the Last Supper. They were debating which of them would be the most important ruler beside Jesus when His kingdom comes. Jesus calmly said to them, “It is presidents and kings of the world that are concerned about authority and power. These wield great authority over all men and everyone must call them ‘gracious’, as in ‘gracious lord,’ or “Wow, you are the greatest thing since Oprah”. But if you want rule in my kingdom, you can’t act like that. The ones who will have the greatest authority in my kingdom must prepare themselves for it by acting like the least important. If you want to be important, then be like a waiter. In a restaurant, who is in charge, the waiter or the customer? Isn’t the customer who orders the waiter around, telling him what to get and how much and sending something back because it isn’t quite right? And doesn’t the waiter have to run around, doing the bidding of the customer? Now look at me—I am the waiter. I am here to serve others, not to tell others how to serve me.
“Look, guys, you are great already. You have stayed with me during my most difficult days, though all the struggles and trials. Because of this, you will rule with me because the Father has given me His kingdom to rule. So you will be feasting at my side—even as we are feasting here!—in my kingdom. And then I will give you authority to rule all of God’s people. Each of you will sit on a throne, and you will rule the twelve nations of Israel.
Everybody Wants To Rule The World…Sometimes
Well, this is kinda embarrassing. After all, Jesus is the one who is always talking about lowliness, about humility. Yet, here He is, encouraging arrogance. You see, even though he is correcting the disciples about some things, he is in agreement with them about the thing most of us are uncomfortable with: It is a good thing to want to be in charge of the world.
Most of us feel that this is inappropriate. After all, its just too lofty of a goal, and it is straight hubris—blatant pride to think that we should rule the world. That’s God’s job, isn’t it?
Well, in fact, its not. God gave the job over of ruling the world to human beings way back in Genesis 1. It is our job and we should want to do the job that God has given us. So when Jesus answers their question, He doesn’t deny that we should want to rule the world. Frankly, we should.
And even if ruling the world seems distasteful to you, we all have a hint of it in ourselves. We all want to be respected by the people who know us. And we all want a certain measure of control to make things “right” over our lives. And we get angry when we see that something isn’t right, either in our lives or in the lives of those around us. These are God-given characteristics to everyone in humanity so that we can do the job that God gave us, namely, to rule the world.
The Wile E. Principle of Leadership
The problem is that we take the characteristics that God has given us and go too far with it. Waaaaay too far. God gave us anger at injustice and we have turned it into anger against anyone who irritates us for any little reason, without regard to what is really right. God gave us the desire to make things right and we have turned this into control-freakishness or harshly punishing those who are different than us. God gave us the desire to be respected and we turn this into a hunger for fame or a fear of negative responses. This is not the kind of world-leadership Jesus is looking for.
So when Jesus responded to his disciples, he didn’t correct their desire for world leadership. In fact, He affirmed it. He said that they would be world leaders in the kingdom. And desiring it is a good thing. What he needed to correct was their methods in achieving it.
Most of us think of obtaining leadership like Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. is on one cliff and he is running as fast as he can to the other side, but he doesn’t realize that there is a canyon between him and the other cliff-top. So he runs out.. and there he is, standing on thin air. And then he falls— Bam!— at the bottom of the canyon and we next see him wrapped in hospital gauze.
Even so, we often think that leadership—as well as wealth and popularity— is a straight line. If we want it, we just go get it. And although we must work hard to achieve success, we will get it if we just take it by the throat. But what we don’t realize is that there is a huge canyon between us and our goal. And if we just try to achieve success in a straight line, then we will be the one in hospital gauze.
The Power Broker
Jesus helps us realize that the only one who can give us success, or power or popularity or wealth— in any positive, permanent way—is God. He is the one ultimately in charge of all things and He gives these things to whom He wills. And while the power-hungry may be in charge now, it will not be that way forever. God will come down to kick out the power hungry and instead welcome a different kind of person.
But to obtain that kind of position, we have to be that different kind of person. God is looking for the lowly, the Anawim, to be in charge of the world. God can’t have the control freaks, the judgmental, the quick to anger or the anxious be in charge of the world. So for world leadership, God is looking for a the lowly and righteous. For the Anawim. God is looking for the people who will act as Jesus said they should—People who are repentant of their sins; people who will sacrifice their life, family and possessions to love Jesus; people who will endure in Jesus through persecution. People who will set aside their comfort in order to serve others. God is looking for faithful disciples.
Jesus Leadership
But not just disciples. Different disciples will obtain different levels of leadership in the final kingdom. And those in charge won’t just be the good disciple—the whole world will be filled with those. But the world leaders will be those who have certain characteristics of leadership
To be an anawimic leader, we have to follow certain principles of leadership now:
Hang out with the down and out—To be a leader in Jesus’ methodology, we cannot be shy of having the outcast be our friends and companions.
Live like the down and out—To be in charge, we have to remain lowly, not seeking wealth or power, but constantly giving to those in need. A godly leader doesn’t think how he can benefit from a resource, but how the whole community can benefit from it.
Get used to taking orders—To be in charge, we have to listen to other’s needs and act on them, rather than our own ambitions. When we see someone’s need, we take that as an order from them to act. If we act in accordance with the other’s need, then we are living out Jesus’ leadership.
Lead by example—It isn’t enough to tell others to do good, to repent, to live purely—we have to do it ourselves. We must show the life of Jesus and not just teach it to others.
Encourage, don’t demand—To be Jesus leader is to be gentle and to recognize other’s freedom to do as they please. If we give others freedom and opportunity to live for God, then they can have a relationship with God. But if we end up controlling others, they have no relationship with God, only us, which defeats the purpose of trying to get people to live for Jesus.
So to be a leader in Christ is to be the Anawim. It is to live as a waiter, a servant of others, only living to act for others and not for our own ambition. If we attempt to get our own ambition, then we end up like Wile E.— Falling to our doom.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Recyclable and the Trash

Matthew 25:31-46
When the Emperor of God descends from heaven displaying his power, having all the angels of heaven surrounding him, then he will rule from his throne and every person on earth will be collected and will stand before His throne. He will judge them all and will divide them up as a rag picker will separate the useful from the trash. And the recyclable he will stand at his right, and the trash he will stand at his left.
The King will proclaim to the right, “I welcome you, those whom my Father speaks well of. You may now possess the Kingdom—my Kingdom—which has been made ready for you, the righteous of humanity, from the creation of the world. You are worthy of this, because of your assistance to me. I was hungry in your neighborhood, and you gave me food. I was parched, passing by your dwelling, and you offered me some water. I was an immigrant and outcast and you let me in your house for the night. I was walking around freezing, and you give me your coat. I was sick and you nursed me to health. I was in prison and you came and met my needs. You listened to me when I was lonely. You kept me safe when I was fearful. You gave me work when I was in need and paid me at the end of the day.” These righteous will answer the Emperor thus, “Our Lord, we thank you. But are you sure you are speaking of us? Did we really see you hungry and feed you? Did we see you needing a drink and gave you something? When did we see you—you of all people-- an outcast and bring you into our house? When were you freezing and we gave you clothes or a blanket? And when, my Lord, when were you in prison and we had opportunity to visit you?”
And the Emperor will answer them, “Listen carefully—whatever you did it to these disciples of mine—even these lowly ones— you did the same to me.”
Then the Emperor will turn to his other side. “You will leave me, you whom the Father curses with his every breath. You will be cast into the punishment which was created for Satan and his messengers. Because I came to your town, hungry, and you told me to get a job. I came to your street, parched with thirst, and you wouldn’t talk to me. I was an immigrant, a homeless person, a mentally ill person on the street, a traveler and you refused me entrance at your doorstep. I was shivering in the cold and you passed by me, although you had closets full of coats, shelves full of extra blankets you weren’t using. I became bed-ridden and disabled and you were too busy with your own life to assist me, or even check in on me. I was in prison, through no fault of my own, and in a locked mental health facility and in the state hospital and you didn’t even write to me, let alone visit me. You cannot live with me in my kingdom, since you did not share your life with me when I was with you.”
They will respond, “But Great Lord, I’m sure you weren’t hungry or thirsty! And you couldn’t have been an outcast or freezing. You were never in our neighborhood—I would remember! And you, being sick—I don’t think so. And you would never have been in prison or a mental health hospital. And if you were, we would have been there for you, serving you, Lord!” The Emperor answers, “Listen carefully, inasmuch as you did not serve these lowly ones, you did not serve me. I was there, through my disciples, as crazy as they seemed, as insignificant as they seemed, and you didn’t let them in your life. Even so, I don’t want you in mine.” And they will leave the Lord and go to eternal punishment. But those who acted with justice lived with the Lord eternally.
A Parable or the Real Thing?
Some think of this passage as a parable. But other parables don’t take place all in future tense, nor give such a clear, plain description of judgment day. Yes, it uses the simile of the sheep and the goats for a single verse, but the text quickly forgets it and gets back to the stark, though spiritual, reality. The reality is this: Jesus is coming back to earth to establish a world-wide takeover. When he is emperor of the world, then he will put every person in front of him, and they will all be judged. There are many references to Jesus’ judging the world (John 5, II Corinthians 5, I Corinthians 3, to name a few), but this is the most detailed description.
Service and Salvation
Like all passages about judgment, it has a clear message of what one must do to be saved on this day. And if we don’t get it the first time, then we can hear it again. And again. Four times in all. What do we do to be saved on the final day? We must serve the poor. Anyone in need, we work for them. It is interesting that it doesn’t talk about giving them money. Rather it talks about using what small resources we have and directly providing their needs. So the saved one, when he sees someone hungry, he feeds them. She will see someone homeless and house them. They know of someone sick and they nurse them to health. It is interesting about the section about those in prison. Those in prison in the ancient world are not granted food or other care. It is expected that their family and friends would do that. So the one who really assists the other is the one who feeds them, cares for them when no one else would.
Even as Jesus before focused on giving to the poor or repenting or being persecuted, now he shows that the one item that is significant on the judgment day is service. And this isn’t service in general. Rather it is free provision to those in need, directly to their area of need, without expecting anything in return.
Faithfulness to the absent king
But haven’t we always learned that salvation is based on faith, not works? Doesn’t this passage teach just the opposite. Actually, this passage teaches what the whole New Testament affirms—that we obtain our salvation by acting on our faith in Jesus. If, this passage teaches, you believe in Jesus, then you will help out those who are disciples of Jesus when they are in need. Because if we help out the disciples of Jesus in need, then we are, by proxy, helping Jesus himself.
The message of the Sheep and the Goats is that the King is absent for right now, and how we treat his servants is how we will be treated. If we don’t invite the people of Jesus in our lives by feeding, clothing, housing and caring for them, then Jesus will not want us in His life, in the kingdom of God. But if we welcome the people of Jesus in need, then we will be welcomed by Jesus into his kingdom.
Some might say, “Is this passage only talking about the church? Isn’t Jesus talking about all the poor?” The passage says specifically of the people Jesus calls his “brothers”. In Matthew, Jesus’ “brothers” are specifically those who are his disciples who do God’s will (Matthew 12:48-50). So it is especially for the church. And it is in agreement with Matthew 10:40-42 which says that those who offer hospitality, “even a cup of cold water” to Jesus’ prophets, righteous people and disciples “because he is a disciple” then they will obtain their reward from God—that is, entrance in the kingdom. This does not mean that helping the homeless and needy in general isn’t a benefit. But it may or may not be an act of faith. Helping Jesus’ disciples specifically is an act of faith.
The Big Test
This passage certainly tells us to help the poor, which many in the church want to do anyway. But it has a special challenge to the church today. Often the church sees itself as being specifically middle class. Yes, they say, there are certainly Christians who are persecuted all throughout the world. But the church often assumes that the “crazy man” pretending to pray on the corner isn’t a “real” Christian. The homeless man who used to be a drug addict and can’t get off of the street can’t be a Christian. Those who have to beg for their food aren’t real believers. So when we help the homeless or the mentally ill, we assume that these are people who need to be saved. As a contrast, Jesus himself says that these believers on the street, rather than only being a marginal Christian are the center of the faith. We will be judged on our every response to these folks, more than any other act. Every act we do is important, but how we respond to the cold, the poor, the helpless, the mentally ill, is how we will be treated by Jesus on the final day.
Universal Determination
There is one last shock in this passage. Everyone goes through this judgment. Not just believers, not just non-believers. Everyone. Without exception. And Jesus isn’t having everyone show their faith statements they signed before they enter the judgment hall. Or their church affiliation. Rather, he is ONLY looking at people’s response to the helpless disciple. Thus, we will all be surprised as to who will be on the one side or the other on Judgment Day. There will be some pretty immoral folks on the side the Father speaks well of. And there will be some people we thought of as “living saints” on the rejected side with the demons. All of it based on whether one is helping the helpless disciple. Our whole eternal life could be based on one time of us either saying “no” or “yes” to a Christian in need, depending on how many opportunities we receive.
How we treat the lowly disciple is how we will be treated by God