23 November 2014

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’” (vv. 37-39)

Psalm: Psalm 95


Much art has been inspired by this story, with its graphic, visual imagery and apparently clear message. Every year over 4 million people look at Michaelangelo's famous depiction fresco, The Last Judgement in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. What message do they take away? A powerful, muscular Christ sealing the fate of men, women and children in a moment? A reassurance that 'being good' is all that matters and that heaven is assured for those who are 'wonderful Christians' without ever naming the name of Christ?

It is a story that needs to be read as the culmination of 25 chapters in which Matthew's Gospel has laid out the principles and practice of a whole new way of life, a way of discipleship and love which transforms the meaning and manner of life. Judgement is not formed on the basis of desultory social actions, but on whether the whole of life has been devoted to receiving and giving the transforming love of Christ. If it has, then the imperative to love one's neighbour as oneself, and to pay particular attention to the marginalised will inevitably have led believers to feed the hungry, refresh the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. They will have done these things not as a conscious strategy to gain eternal life, but as a natural response to the love and renewal they have received. So, they may hardly even be aware of having done it and certainly unaware that their actions had eternal consequences (verses 37-39). Others, the "goats" as this word-picture would have it, have gone through life with their eyes unopened to the presence and wonder of God all around, especially in the poor and needy. They may not have deliberately chosen to ignore God, they just haven't noticed the presence. "Were you there?"

The 'Reign of Christ', the theme explored during this coming week of readings and notes, does not begin at the last judgement, but at the first response to the whisper of a call.

To Ponder

  • Today is both Women against Violence Sunday and the feast of Christ the King. How might the Church better understand the reign of Christ as empowerment for the weak, not an exercising of alpha-male strength?
  • How do you respond when neighbours tell you they "don't need to go to church to live a good life"?
  • Today's psalm, 95, is subtitled "A call to worship and obedience". In what way can you hear both today?

Bible notes author:  Jill Baker

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