Summary: Christians throughout the centuries, in response to the challenge of this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, have tried to help people in need, and in the process have made a better world. We, and they, will reap the reward of our earthly actions.
She wore her characteristic Indian sari with the blue border that represented the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1949. Her years on earth had bent her already small frame, but there was nothing small about Mother Teresa’s presence.
Who would have ever thought that this small Albanian woman would be an agent for change? She was shy and introverted as a child, and she was in fragile health. She was one of three children of a generous but unremarkable businessman. Yet somewhere along her life’s journey, she became convinced that Jesus walked in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” and she set out to love him by loving them. In 1989, she told a reporter that her Missionaries had picked up around 54,000 people from the streets of Calcutta, India and that 24,000 or so had died in her care.
None of us can help everyone, but all of us can help someone, and when we help them, we serve Jesus. When we do, we will hear the words of Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.
Today marks the end of the church year. Next week, we will celebrate the beginning of the Advent season. It is a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, and not just his first coming as an infant in that stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. We will also remember that he will come again at the end of the age to set up his kingdom here on earth. No one knows when it will happen, and Jesus warned us not to try to predict when it will happen, but we must always be ready because it can happen at any time.
When he comes to earth to judge the people, he will judge them by what they have done for others and by what they have shared with others and not by what they know or who they know or by their church membership. We see Jesus through the eyes of compassion, and we can see that compassion in the work done by health care workers or emergency personnel such as police officers, paramedics or fire fighters.
The story of the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is the minimum standard of behaviour that applies to all of us. Christ sees what we do because he is the recipient of our acts of kindness and mercy, no matter how big or small they are. It is about the acts of compassion, justice and gentleness which we do without having to think about them. What we do for others, we do for Jesus. Then we will receive God’s mercy and love.
The acts of compassion we do for others are within the reach of all of us. When we do these things, we tell others about Christ through our actions. The judgment identifies Christ with the underprivileged, so that anything we do for them is a deed of love for Christ. We must live like we take Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:31-46 seriously. What we do with the Good News of Jesus has enormous consequences because the punishment of those who reject Jesus is just as eternal as the reward of those who serve him. Failing to show compassion for others condemns us to eternal damnation. Every person who receives Jesus Christ as their Saviour and shows compassion will receive rewards individually. Our service to others reflects the condition of our hearts. When we respond to God’s call to serve, we know that we are ministering to Jesus himself.
Do we sometimes look at those who are in need and refuse to help them because we think they deserved what happened to them? While it is true that some are in their particular situation because of their own actions, we are not to judge them or condemn them. Only God can do that, because his standards are perfect and higher than ours. Our job is to show Christ’s love by showing compassion for them, because when we do, we become Christ-like.
The story does simplify the basis on which God’s judgment is made. It has to do with how each person responds to everyday opportunities to help others in need. Jesus judges injustice instead of perpetuating it. Life in God’s kingdom is not about what we have or who we are, it’s about what we do. Random acts of kindness and serving the less fortunate in the community are powerful ways of authenticating the gospel. Jesus calls us to witness through our generosity. In the words of the Golden Rule, we are to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
We must be prepared to minister to the poor wherever God calls us to minister to them, whether it is in a nursing home or the local food bank, around the corner or around the world. Parceling out this kind of compassion will not result in loud whistles or applause. In fact, the best acts of compassion will never be known to most people, nor will large sums of money be dumped into our laps because we are committed to being helpful. Normally, acts of mercy are done in obscurity on behalf of unknown people. Those who would be greatest in God’s Kingdom are those who make themselves the least.