rethinking judgment and salvation (oh, why not!)

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’”

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:12, 23, 40

Much of the way I live my life is a reaction, a response, or even sometimes an act of rebellion against, the often unreasonable pace – and glib “tweet this” mentality – of the world we inhabit.

There is a startlingly evident lack of deep, well considered thought – it’s a deficit that can be mirrored in the way that we live, the way that we speak, the way that we study, the way that we react to challenge.

So I’m glad that my Sunday morning study group is taking such a long time to move through the Gospel of Matthew. Rather than selected pericopes, favorite verses, or bullet-point summaries, we have been digesting the entire book, often doubling back to re-read, reminding ourselves of the overall trajectory of the story.

Matthew 25:

Now we have arrived at chapter 25, a section we have taken in three bites. Typically, we think of the famous “Sheep and Goats” narrative Jesus shared, but there are three stories in the chapter and they have worked together for me this week to suggest a new way of thinking about judgment and salvation. If you’re up for it, continue reading and I’ll try to share.

The three subheadings read: “The Parable of the Ten Virgins”; “The Parable of the Bags of Gold”; “The Sheep and the Goats.”

In the first story, everything hinges on the following statement by Jesus in verse 12: “But [the bridegroom] replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’”

The bags of gold – talents – parable is not about multiplication, but about imagination. What I mean is I believe the “master” is less interested in making bank than in seeing people invest themselves in the world around them. It’s not about doubling the money so much as jumping in. Jesus wants to see each one of us get out of the boat and at least try to walk on the water; sink or swim it’s better than standing on the sidelines to watch.

Then – and this is especially difficult for those who own a “Jesus punched my ticket for heaven” mentality – the story about the sheep and the goats all comes down to this: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

This chapter is a great example of the following truths:

  1. Much of what we say when we try to pigeonhole Jesus falls apart when we actually read the Bible;
  2. Jesus is much more complex than our soundbite proclamations;
  3. Literalism always fails to hold water when we take the time to listen to Jesus.

Portfolio Assessment:

“I have a question for you all,” I said during our discussion. “There are many ways to give assessments, final exams, tests, and evaluations. If you were preparing for the kind of Last Judgment Jesus references in Matthew 25, would it be an exam? Would it be, ‘I’m exempting the final because I accepted Jesus?’ Or wold it be a portfolio assessment”?

After reading those three stories/parables in Matthew 25, I really don’t see any evidence that Jesus offers any kind of a free pass. But then I also understand that Jesus rejects legalism, “works”, judgmentalism, and slavery to the law.

So I’m inclined to see this final judgment more along the lines of a portfolio assessment. At some point, it’s imperative that we shift our orientation from law to grace, and that is only possible when we respond to Christ’s invitation to this new life, this New Creation. Then – and I believe this is the position Jesus is staking out in his story about the sheep and the goats – the evidence is always going to be there when we live this new life in Christ.

So we don’t address the social ills, the pain, and the brokenness of this world in order to curry favor with the Almighty. Instead, we love this way as a natural and grateful response to the generous and transformational love of God.

It’s critically important that we know the bridegroom (verse 12) – nothing else is possible outside of that relationship; then, it’s on us to take the gifts and the blessings we’ve been entrusted with and to put ourselves out there, as hardworking, creative ambassadors of grace (verse 23); finally, it’s going to be more than obvious if we have been living into our salvation (verse 40).

Salvation means participating in the work God is up to; it means aligning ourselves with God’s initiatives. If we are saved, then we are by definition teaming up with God and involved in God’s work. It’s only because of grace that we have the invitation – but it’s still up to us to show up.

Today’s photos are from the “laying on of hands” portion of the ordination service during worship at WFPC yesterday. Several men and women were ordained and installed as elders and deacons. If we know Jesus, and if we are following his Way, then we are doing the work of the Kingdom.

In love, and because of love – DEREK


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