Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Living Right

Today's reading from Matthew is "The Judgment of the Nations" (or Gentiles, depending on how you translate). I've never been clear on whether to read this like a parable or as a prediction of things to come, but one point seems clear, God's judgment ends up surprising a lot of folks.

Jesus was speaking to Jews when he said this, and they likely heard it differently than you or I. To Jews, "the nations" (or Gentiles) referred to those other folks, the non-Jews, the people not a part of our faith. Perhaps that means that as Christians we should read this as "The Judgment of the non-Christians" or of "the Pagans."

Regardless, this judgment raises questions about what matters most to God, getting our belief structure ironed out just so, or aligning our lives with God's priorities. These Gentiles are judged as righteous when they unwittingly care for "the least of these."

If this judgment is about those folks, the people who aren't members of our churches, what are we in congregations to take away from this? A very tentative thought I have relates to the occasional Christian obsession with formulas. Believe in Jesus and get saved. But Jesus' words on the judgment of the pagans makes me wonder if we in the Church don't sometimes miss the point. Granted, it requires believing Jesus' word is authoritative to even have this discussion, but does the Church exist primarily to convince folks of the formula or to demonstrate and teach the way of life Jesus modeled?

John Calvin, the Reformation leader who began the tradition that birthed Presbyterians, often accused the Roman Catholics of lapsing into superstition, believing that certain rites magically guaranteed your standing before God. I wonder if the modern day Protestant Church hasn't sometimes lapsed into a new form of superstition, where a few correctly worded phrases magically guarantee our standing before God (even if we don't actually do very much Jesus told us to do).

And pagans who never had a clue scratch their heads and enter into the Kingdom.

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