Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Christ Hidden in the Unworthy, Part 2

In the aftermath of yesterday's election, I see us lamenting what we see as the sorting systems of political parties... deciding who's worthy and who's not worthy of tax dollars, protection, and initiatives (the elderly / unborn, the poor / the wealthy, the unemployed / corporations, the uninsured / health industry).  And I wonder if there is anything to be learned from Matthew 25.

We see a description of an event that will take place at the last judgment.  All the nations are being gathered before Christ, who has come in glory with all his angels.  As all nations are there before Him, Christ begins a sorting process of His own.

And so Jesus begins this process of putting some people on his right hand and putting the rest on his left.  When all the people are sorted and divided, he speaks to the people on each side and explains that they will be judged according to how they have treated the least of these… how they have sorted the people in their lives.  Those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in prison are the ones who will be called righteous and will inherit the kingdom.  Those who ignored the needs of the least will be cast away. 

The thing that is so telling about this picture is that neither the sheep nor the goats, the righteous nor the unrighteous, had any idea that Christ was involved in these actions or lack of these actions.  And so we get the idea that the sheep were living their lives in such a way that they were feeding, clothing, and visiting because they saw value in those activities that had nothing to do with gaining righteousness.  They didn’t do any of these things to please God, to gain recognition, or to raise their reputation. And they didn't rely on government programs to do these things for them.

Instead, they fed because people were hungry and they were unwilling to let people go hungry.  They clothed others because they were not OK with people having no clothing. They visited the forgotten because they were not content to let others be starved for affection.  And so we see these sheep feeding, clothing, and visiting in a very unself-conscious way… for no personal gain or reward.  These were people who lived according to the rule of compassion… the rule of love.  They were attentive to the people around them and were willing to take the time and give resources to see to the well-being of others. And they weren't willing to wait for a congress that would pass laws to make it happen.

And these sheep discovered that
Christ hides himself in the unworthy.

On the other hand, we see the goats being upset because if they had only known that Christ was somehow present in these people they probably would have done everything they could to minister to Christ.  Instead, they hadn’t seen any reason to give their time, attention, or resources to such lowly and unworthy people.  They had gone through their sorting process and had put the least of these into a category to be ignored.  They had decided who was worthy and who was not.  Rather than making these decisions according to compassion or love, they probably used a very different set of priorities. We accuse political parties of goat-like behavior... but in actuality, are we, as individuals, any less goat-ish than the party we oppose? 

What things do we find in our daily lives taking precedence over love and compassion? And who do we expect to do the loving and compassionate thing when we believe we are too busy or unwilling?

If Jesus suddenly became obviously clear in the presence of the people we’ve dismissed as not worth our time and energy, we would probably rush to serve him…

We can relate to the goats. We can imagine ourselves saying… “well, Jesus, if I had known that you were present in... I would have... If I had known… if only I had known…"

Christ hides himself in the unworthy.

I'm not suggesting that we don't ever concern ourselves with politics... and I'm not saying that all social problems would be solved if we would just be better neighbors (although I think it would help)... but I am wondering if part of our frustration with the failings of political systems might be better pointed at our own expectations that the government should somehow do what we, as followers of Christ, have been called to do.  I know there's a lot to argue with here... and I know I'm naive... and I have so much to learn.  Admittedly, I don't live in a neighborhood that has been prey to systemic injustice and so I haven't experienced, firsthand, the same need for systemic intervention... but I know the need is real. Historically, the biggest positive differences in this world have come through the love, sacrifice and courage of individuals and communities resisting systems long before a system ever shifted. And so I simply ask the question, "are we doing our part?' And I guess I'm being honest in saying that I have no hope that our government is going to do much good in the years to come.

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