Examined on Love

The church’s year ends around the end of November, a month before the calendar year. The readings from the scriptures are an end of term report in which judgement on performance is given. The words chosen this year give little comfort to those who think membership is everything; all you have to do is ‘believe that you are saved’ or ‘accept the Lord Jesus’ and you are safely home.

You aren’t. The test is, what did you do? There are no questions such as ‘are you baptised?’ ‘Have you paid your dues?’ ‘Do you have the correct uniform?’ No, the questions are, ‘did you feed the hungry? Did you give drink to the thirsty? Welcome the stranger? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick and those in prison?’ (Matt 25: 31-46)

Jesus is quite blunt. These and these alone are the qualifications. There is no mention of baptism and church membership, or of being priests and sisters and bishops. Maybe we are a little shocked by his almost brutal words, but we have to remember that Jesus himself was shocked by the corruption of the leaders of Israel. They only thought of themselves and used their position to build up their power and wealth. And his criticisms were not new. The prophets long ago had said the same thing. ‘Disaster is in store for the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves … while my flock has been scattered all over the world.’ (Ezekiel 34: 2, 6)

For 2011 we would get a mixed report. There are so many people struggling to feed the hungry in Somalia and South Sudan. There are others researching ways of increasing food production for the planet’s growing population. There are scientists studying the diminishing access to water in many countries and what should be done about it. There are others struggling to help migrants in all those countries which people risk their lives to reach, but who find themselves unwelcome when they arrive.

There are countless programmes all over the world to reach the sick, the lonely and the house-bound. And there are those who bend their efforts not just to visit prisoners, but to improve their conditions. All these people will hear the words, ‘come you who my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world’. It is as simple as that.

But it will be a mixed report because during this year there are have been those who have not cared about the hungry and the thirsty. They have been too intent on feeding themselves. They have closed their eyes and ears to the pleading of strangers and instead put up fences and walls to keep them out. They have ignored the sick, or even stigmatised them for the disease they carry, and they say of prisoners ‘it is your fault and you must suffer’.

The great sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross, sums it all up by saying, ‘we will be examined on love.’ How will I fare in that examination? It is the only one that counts.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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