Read Matthew 25:31-46
Jesus begins Matthew 25 with two parables that speak of the reality of divine judgment. In the parable of the ten virgins, he speaks of five who are prepared and waiting for the bridegroom to come. The other five virgins are unprepared and are shut out of the feast that was supposed to be a celebration of their wedding.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus speaks of two servants who faithfully put to work the capital that the master entrusts to them. They are rewarded for their obedience. But one evil servant intends to merely hand back to the master what the master handed to him. This servant is cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Jesus of the Bible makes many of us uncomfortable with the way that he speaks. We live in a cultural moment where speaking of hell or divine judgment is quite unpopular. Perhaps this is because our love for inclusivity makes us uncomfortable with the fact that some people will be excluded from the joy of Jesus in his kingdom. Perhaps it is because of the deeper problem of narcissism that will not allow many of us to be open to the fact that we are each sinners who are deserving of divine judgment. Regardless of the reasons, we need to take a moment to be less concerned with our twenty-first-century American values and more concerned with being hearers of Jesus on the terms in which Jesus presents himself.
If we are lovers of good and lovers of justice, the realities of hell and divine judgment should make us glad. Our grandparents saw the horrors of the Holocaust and thought that an appropriate response was to try and execute the perpetrators of such depravity. Any king who would not respond that way is simply unfit to rule. If we love people, then we are happy that Jesus will judge the injustice done to the oppressed.
Let’s stop to think about two profound ideas from this passage from Matthew 25:31-46.
- Jesus (the Son of Man) is a glorious king who sits on a throne.
We take great pride in America that we have no king. The People are sovereign. Nobody tells us what to do, how to think, or who we are. We each define those things on OUR terms. But Jesus doesn’t let that illusion lie forever.
- Some will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
There is an eternal division that will occur. From our vantage point to today, this division is not entirely clear. Notice that we can’t answer for how other people treat Jesus’ brothers. But we will surely answer for ourselves how we treat them.
The KING, on the other hand, sees clearly. He sees all. That’s why he has the right to judge. He sees the sheep and he sees the goats. And he will separate them accordingly.
The season of lent traditionally begins with a cross of ashes on the forehead of those who come to pray. The symbolism of both a cross and ash is meant to remind us each of death and mortality. We may wish death away. We may ignore it as long as we can. But it is coming. And there is nothing we can do to avoid eternity.