25 Nov 2007
“‘He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.’” (Matt. 25:33) (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo
Tuesday morning we woke up to the first snowfall of the season. In the early morning it was barely enough to cover the ground, but even that little bit of white made a difference. I imagine that my house’s morning routine is not that much different than that of others on a workday-slash-schoolday. It’s not always easy to get the kids moving in the morning, but with the addition of just a little bit of snow everything changes. Amanda was dressed and outside a full half hour before we even needed to leave for school, and Frankie from across the street, who we tend to have to wait for when we share rides together, was over in the yard just as early. Snow makes a difference; it changes us. If you like it, you get excited and energetic; if you don’t, you slow down to a hibernation-pace just waiting for the coming of Spring’s warmer weather. But either way, it changes us.
This Thanksgiving weekend Triple-A estimates that there are 39 million Americans traveling 50 or more miles. That gas costs over $3 a gallon, which is 85¢ more than last Thanksgiving, doesn’t even put a dent into these numbers. My brother-in-law from Aberdeen, MD called to say that Interstate 95 was already at a crawl, and this was only on Tuesday evening. It must have been absolutely horrible on Wednesday, and it probably is again today. But just like the snow, Thanksgiving changes people. They know they’re going to hit a whole mess of traffic and it’s going to be expensive to get to where they’re going, but they go anyway. To be with family is more important than the inconvenience of getting to family. The Thanksgiving holiday makes a difference. It changes us.
Today is the last Sunday of the church year. As we come to the end of our liturgical cycle, our thoughts are carried forward to the end of history, to the moment of judgment, to the time when we will be held accountable for what we have done with this gift of life and of faith. Matthew presents to us today an amazing story of judgment. These are the words of Jesus as He Himself looks ahead to the end of time. Blessings are granted to those who had unknowingly been generous to the king. After their unexpected commendations, they ask the king when they had ever given him food when he was hungry, offered him a drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him when he was a stranger, or clothed him when he was cold. The king’s words in reply are: “‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (25:40)
The message of Jesus’ parable of judgment is that faith must affect the way we live our lives. There must be evidence of our faith in what we do. Just like the first snowfall changes people, just like Thanksgiving changes people, so must faith give evidence that we are a changed people. In church-circles, there is sometimes talk of practical atheists. Practical atheists are people who claim to believe in God, but show no practical signs of their faith in God. Just like the other group of people in today’s parable, practical atheists would be surprised by their condemnation. But Jesus being the fair judge that He is will give them a chance to prove otherwise. This is where the practical part comes into play. This is where the ones protesting their innocence will have a chance to offer practical, concrete examples of how faith has made a difference in the way they lead their lives. If there’s not much to point to, it’s off to the other group.
We need to be changed people if we are sincerely people of faith. For one, that means realizing that faith is a real part of our lives. Everything in Jesus’ parable today points to how we express our faith toward others, but it presupposes that we have a good relationship with God as a foundation. The spiritual exercise of faith is so much a part of Jesus’ life that often times it goes unexpressed because it is assumed. When we do hear of Jesus going off in prayer, it’s because He is simply exhausted by His ministry. He needs to retreat by Himself to be refreshed by communion with His Father in heaven. This part of the faith is for us. It’s something we need. So I guess the first sign of being a changed person of faith is that we are here. Jesus would not be able to understand making it through life without giving ourselves a chance to every once in a while touch the spiritual, to devote uninterrupted time to God, to come into the shelter of a church and to feel the nearness of heaven and the strength of other people of faith. This is the first sign.
Following from this is everything implied by today’s parable. Remember that Jesus has made clear that there is little evidence of faith in normal acts of kindness and generosity. As He puts it quite plainly, “‘If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.’” (Luke 6:33) Faith makes a difference in our lives, it changes us, when our care and concern for each other is selfless, unexpected and not necessarily even appreciated. A miserable man dies and shows up before St. Peter at the pearly gates. Peter looks over his record and is about to send him to you-know-where. The man protests that he doesn’t deserve you-know-where. Peter asks him to prove it, “Tell me something you did that would convince me otherwise.” The man starts thinking and going over his whole selfish life. He starts to sweat and get weak-kneed. He can’t think of anything. Then finally he remembers one time giving a quarter to a bum for a cup of coffee. He blurts this one story out to Peter. Peter tells the man to wait and goes over to make a call to God. He tells God about the bum and the quarter. God responds, “Give him his quarter back and tell him to go to …
Well … you know how the story ends for that guy. Let’s make sure it doesn’t end that way for us. Judgment is inevitable. What side of that judgment we end up on is not. Let us be changed by our faith. Let us give God a slew of evidence that we are believers in how we act toward Him and toward each other. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)