Strangers

Week 6, Day 3

Deuteronomy 10. 17-20; Matthew 25. 31-46

This post is an edited version of something I wrote a year ago. It happens to be on topic for the texts we have this week (which you can find below). This is a bit longer than my usual post, but since this is also probably the only thing I will have time for between now and Sunday, I thought you would forgive the length

It is not my intention here to offer a solution to the manifold problems facing our nation and the world right now. That would be well above my pay grade, at any rate. Nor is it my goal to castigate an individual politician, though you all know I am not above succumbing to that temptation from time to time. What I want to write about, rather, is something that really puzzles me; and to ask, sincerely, for any help anyone can give me in resolving this puzzle.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. To be specific, because of his words and his acts; because of the way he insists on drawing the circle of God’s love so generously that the ever expanding boundary speeds off into infinite distance, encompassing all people and all Creation. I am drawn to him because of his boundless compassion—for the weak and oppressed, for the hungry, the lonely, the mourning, the little ones. I am awed by his selfless, unstinting courage—speaking for those who have no voice, standing with the victims of violence and mis-used authority, keeping company with the outcast and rejected, remembering those the powerful so easily forget.

I am endlessly challenged, and humbled, by his call for we who claim his name to be his eyes and hands and feet; his voice—his body, in our world today. In this world, with all its dangers and threats and enemies, its unending crises and unsolvable dilemmas. And I am continually undone by his expectation that I should love this world, and its people, as he does and that my love—or its lack, will have eternal effect: “I was hungry (Jesus said) and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we do this!” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25)

I am a Christian because of Jesus. But I am not very good at being like Jesus. My heart is often hard, my hands clumsy and my voice indistinct. Most Christians, it seems to me, share those traits.

But most of us, it also seems to me, have eyes that do work pretty well. We can see who “the least of these” are—around us and distant from us. We can see the need. And we have hearts that work, too; sometimes. I know you people. I know the depth of your compassion, the breadth of your generosity, the strength of your love. And I believe most of our Christian neighbors look just like you.

So why is it so hard—this is my puzzle—why is it so hard for Christian folk in this country in these days to connect the dots between, “What you did for the least of these you did for me”, and what needs to be done for “the least of these” in our world today? How can compassionate followers of a compassionate Jesus support compassionless politicians and heartless policies? How can it be that 58% of mainline Protestants, 60% of white Catholics and 81% of white, evangelical Christians would bring to power a party that, over and over again, promised to enact policies directly counter to the values of Jesus—and over the last year has proven, many times over, its willingness to act on those promises?

And how can these Christians remain silent as those promises are fulfilled?

I’m really trying to understand.

I’m hoping my progressive friends will not quip, “Just goes to show ‘those’ Christians don’t take their faith too seriously”. That is both unkind and untrue; it’s never that simple. And I’m hoping my conservative friends will not tell me I just don’t understand the issues. I may be a little naive at times, but I am neither blind nor stupid.

I am, however, perplexed. It’s certainly possible that I’m missing something here. This would not be the first time that has happened. That’s why I’m asking.

In the meantime I’m going to pray, even more than for a solution to my puzzle, for Christian people of every stripe and every community to practice seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus. I will hope for all the world to find the imagination for kindness and generosity he displayed. And I will wish, and hope, and pray we will gain courage from his character—courage to draw the circle wider, and wider still; courage to be his hands and voice; courage to be the welcome he was, and wants to be through us today.

Prayer: God, may the compassion Jesus breathed be contagious among us, and through us to neighbors and strangers near and far. Grant us wisdom to discern the best way forward and courage to follow that path. Amen.

Deuteronomy 10. 17-20

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God.

Matthew 25. 31-46

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 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?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

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