“Lord, when was it that we saw you . . .” Matthew Chapter 25 Verse 37
The word “care” might provide us with an acrostic to think about Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading; care is at the heart of what he is saying and the four letters of the word are the initial letters of four dimensions of what he is teaching.
“C” is the initial letter of “comes.” Jesus says in Verse 31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory”. How seriously do we take his teaching? Do we really take to heart Jesus’ warning to us about the end of time?
It was people’s carelessness regarding Jesus’ teaching about his return that drove the American Catholic writer, Judy Esway away from the faith with which she had grown up. Here’s what she remembers from the days of her Catholic childhood:
“As a child I had a beautiful, simple faith. But it faded as I got older. There is one especially vivid memory I have of a time when I was still young. I must have been in third or fourth grade. I was sitting in church during Mass, and something struck me as being strange. I looked around at all the people. They had the most serious, deadpan looks on their faces, yet the words they were speaking were so full of power. In drab, monotone voices they were saying,
“And he will come again.”
I looked around thinking, who’s going to come again? Are they talking about Jesus?
“And we will see him face to face.” I started to get a bit excited. We’re going to see Jesus face to face?
“And the dead will rise.” The dead will rise? You mean we won’t have to stay dead? This was good news. This was fantastic news. Why weren’t these people smiling? Why weren’t they happy?
Finally I heard them say, “And we will live forever.” Well, this was really the clincher. We’re going to live forever? Why weren’t they dancing in the aisles? Why weren’t they clapping and shouting if they were going to live forever? On that sad day it dawned on me: these people must not believe what they are saying. And so I stopped believing it too.”
Jesus talks about when he comes in his glory, but do we listen to his words with the care they deserve or are we like the people in the congregation that stood around Judy Esway, in our heart of hearts do we really not believe his words?
Do we care that he will come again in glory?
“A” speaks to us of action, of how we choose to act. The people who are commended in the parable are those who act for themselves, those who take the initiative, those who do not wait for someone else to tell them. ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”. In verse 40, Jesus tells those who have acted according to his wishes.
Jesus’ teaching would have been worrying to the religious people of his time; it would have been worrying to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the priests, because Jesus is suggesting that being welcomed into the kingdom does not depend on keeping the rules, it does not depend on getting the words right, saying the right things. Jesus has earlier warned them that being religious is not enough, in Saint Matthew Chapter 7 Verse 21, he tells people, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven”. Jesus is telling us that going to church will not gain us a place in heaven, instead doing the will of God the Father is what bring a welcome.
Do we care enough to act?
“R” reminds us that those who suffer judgement are those who merely reacted, those who could not see what was in front of them. In verse 44, they ask ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Just reacting when we are challenged, pretending that we were not aware of the circumstances, is something against which Jesus warns in Saint Luke Chapter 16 in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We read in Saint Luke Chapter 16 Verses 19-21,
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The rich man and Lazarus both die. Lazarus goes to be with Abraham in heaven and the rich man goes to the flames. The rich man appeals to Abraham to help and Abraham replies, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony”. The rich man has had ample opportunity in his lifetime to act according to what he knew to be right, instead he chooses only to react when he is compelled to do so. How often do we as Christians live our lives as oblivious to the suffering of those around as the rich man was oblivious to the sufferings of Lazarus?
Do we care enough to be more than people who just react?
“E” is the initial letter of eternity. The Gospel reading concludes at Saint Matthew Chapter 25 Verse 46, Jesus says to his listeners, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Isn’t eternal life what our faith is about? Saint John Chapter 3 Verse 16 is often see as one of the most important verses in the whole Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Eternal life is there for whoever believes. “Whoever”, you, me, the man in the street, the lady on the bus, the most unlikely, the most ungodly, God will relate to any of us directly. When we think about God it maybe as a powerful, terrifying figure, but he is also a God who is present, a God there, at all times in all places. “Whoever” is a statement that this is an accessible God, that this is an approachable God. “Whoever” is a statement that God does not discriminate: whoever responds to God, God will respond to them. Whoever believes will have eternal life.
Eternal life is surely something about which we care?
He is coming. Our action or reaction determines how we spend eternity.