Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Matthew 25: Where does Jesus send us?

Many Christians speak of "Matthew 25 ministry," by which they mean the final of three stories Jesus told to describe the coming kingdom of heaven.

Those who focus on the third parable are clearly and rightly taken with the good works it enjoins. Jesus sends his people to meet the needs of those who are beaten down, vulnerable and in need. Here's an example from a parish web page. Here's an example from an advocacy group.

There is a tendency among those who speak this version of the parable to reduce it to a moral lesson about good deeds or a religious invocation over a partisan political platform. But there's something much bigger going on.

As in the uncomfortable Gospel many heard last Sunday, Jesus' story in Matthew 25 asserts the eternal destiny of humanity. Those who are about God's work, even with limited or imperfect understanding, can receive Jesus' commendation to eternal bliss. Those who ignore God's work in this life face eternal torment.

Some preachers told their congregations this whole message last Sunday. Others did not.

Matthew 25 confronts us with our tendency to cherry pick the Bible verses we like, to create a Jesus who suits us.

Those who would reduce eternal salvation to a verbal formula or feeling must come to terms with Jesus' blessing upon those who serve him - without realizing it - by caring for the world's weak and marginal people.

Those who would eliminate the eternal and reduce Jesus to a moral nag must come to terms with the clearly stated conclusion to his story:

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me...' ...Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Jesus sends us to care and serve in the here and now. But the most powerful words by which he proclaims this are intimately bound with the news that he will send some of us to eternal joy and the rest to eternal torment.

The church does not honor Jesus' message or humanity's honest questions by denying or editing of the Gospel it has received.

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