Thursday, February 08, 2007

Judgment Day

Jesus talked a lot about unsettling things, among them the day of judgment, when he would separate, as he said, the sheep from the goats. I don't know why it is, but goats, which provide milk and cheese and can clean up poison oak like nobody's business, apparently had a bad reputation even in Biblical times. In this sermon, Jesus talks about separating the sheep from the goats, with the sheep (the righteous) on his right:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Matthew 25.34-36
Do you get the feeling that the poor are important to Jesus?

Well, of course they are. But I wonder... why does he focus on just one of his priorities in this account? What about the greatest commandment - to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? What about eschewing violence?

Here's my take on it. First, let's see who he's talking to. I think he's still talking to the disciples who came to him privately (24.3). So these are people who already know about avoiding idolatry and violence and this sort of thing; they know the command to love the Lord, and so on. I think he's giving them some ideas of how to express that love -- what it means in practice to love the Lord.

Second, this is one parable in a series. Before this is the parable of the young women with the lamps (25.1) and the parable of the talents (25.14). I think this one about the poor is a corrective for the tendency many of us have to get involved in "religious" activities to the point of forgetting the poor. The tendency to be so heavenly minded, as the saying goes, that we're no earthly good.

May the Lord help us to avoid this pitfall. May we remember the poor as we worship him, and may we remember him in whatever else we do.

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