From time to time I like to peek ahead at the coming Sunday’s Gospel to gauge how stressful the week’s sermon prep will be for the preacher (I know, I get pleasure out of the most twisted pastimes). This week’s passage, Matt 25:31-46, is a doozy. It’s not that the thrust of the passage is hard to understand, but the message sure is difficult. In the passage, Jesus describes the end of time, when God will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep join God in eternal bliss, the goats are banished to the eternal fire. The fate of one’s soul is determined by fairly objective criteria–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison.
The question of the afterlife aside (I’m really quite uncomfortable with the concept of hell), what I find most fascinating (and difficult) about this text is that the people of God are defined not by creed or association, but by concrete action on behalf of poor and oppressed persons. For whatever reasons, many Christians today choose instead to debate the authority of scripture or decry the morality of one’s sexual orientation or anathematize whoever supports a pro-choice candidate, while 900 million plus live in hunger. Now these are all thorny issues, but according to Matthew 25, any ideological or theological debates pale in comparison to actually serving those in need. I suggest we spend less time putting our theological ducks in a row and more time acting like the Church.