Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sheep And Goats

This week's gospel is one of the more famous passages of scripture. Jesus' description of the final judgement. It is sometimes called a parable. The passage does not indicate that. It reads more like Jesus just telling us how He will judge us. Like a teacher who wants his students to pass the final exam. He gives then the questions and indicates the most common mistakes. 
Jesus said to his disciples:"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,and all the angels with him,he will sit upon his glorious throne,and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me,ill and you cared for me,in prison and you visited me.’Then the righteous will answer him and say,'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’And the king will say to them in reply,'Amen, I say to you, whatever you didfor one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’Then he will say to those on his left,'Depart from me, you accursed,into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food,I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,a stranger and you gave me no welcome,naked and you gave me no clothing,ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’Then they will answer and say,'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirstyor a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,and not minister to your needs?’He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,what you did not do for one of these least ones,you did not do for me.’And these will go off to eternal punishment,but the righteous to eternal life."
Abp. Chaput once preached on this and said the message is simple. If you ignore the poor you go to hell. Any questions? There is a lot to be said for that but there is much more depth in this text. It goes to the vary basis of how the grace of God transforms us. We need to cooperate with that grace so it helps to know just how it works.

What do we see when we see other people? People who are like us in some ways and unlike us in other ways. People who have done great things and also done some very terrible things. What do we see? The first impulse is to judge. It this a good person? Is this someone I should be impressed by? Is this someone I should worry about? Is this someone evil? We meet all kinds of people and we put them into categories. There is nothing wrong with noticing those things about them but there is something very wrong with seeing that as the most important truth about them. How we size people up should not be the decisive factor. Who created them should be what matters most. 

When we try and avoid judging we often end up in another trap. We decide that everything they do must be OK because to say it is not OK would be to judge them. That just isn't true. When we find that someone is doing something evil the first thing we need to remember is we do evil to. God deals with our sin not by condemning us but by forgiving us and offering us opportunity after opportunity to transform our lives and become holy. We need to realize that God is doing the same thing in their life. Most of it we don't see but we should realize that it is a slow and painful process for them because it is a slow and painful process for us. 

Their sin is going to be different from our sin. It is very easy to decide their sin is more serious. It is especially easy when we are the victim of some of their sins. It is so easy to write people off. It is so easy to stop loving them and to assume God has stopped loving them as well. That is where we leave grace behind. When you start saying someone needs to be good enough to be loved by you or by God then you taking a place that belongs to God. You are declaring your sin to be minor and someone else's sin to be major. 

Imagine you loved someone so much you were willing to die for them. Say that was not just words but there was a time when you chose, out of love, to suffer huge pain and almost certain death for them. How would you react if someone else said to you that you had rejected that person and didn't love them at all? That would be one of the most offensive thing anyone could say to you. Yet that is what we say to God when we assume He does not love people in our lives. Jesus died for that person just as much as He died for you. If you don't love that person you don't love Jesus. 

This is why there is no exaggeration when Jesus says anything you did to the least of humanity you did unto me. The least of humanity is where you have nothing left but grace. When the only thing positive you can say about someone is that they are human is that enough? Does that alone give them a dignity that will cause you to serve them? 

If you grasp that then you grasp something huge about yourself. That your dignity and God's love for you does not depend on anything you did or didn't do. That is a huge source of peace. It can allow us to really face the truth about ourselves. We can be honest about our sin because we know it does not define us. When we see in ourselves the same sin we saw in others we don't condemn ourselves because we didn't condemn them. 

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