I wrote this for the McCormick Theological Seminary Advent/Christmas devotional. Saturday, January 1 – The Season of Advent
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?’ Matthew 25: 31-46 (excerpt)
To be honest, I’ve tended to read the blessing in this passage and skip over the condemnation. Sure, there have been times when I’ve helped those in need, and it’s nice to rest in the assurance that I was helping Jesus by helping them. But what about the other side of that coin? I have the sinking suspicion that, for each time I’ve reached out, there are many times that I’ve failed to do so.
This is an uncomfortable thing to acknowledge, but at this time of year I’m inclined to be honest. Today is a day for new beginnings, and as I make plans and identify my aspirations I want to seriously consider these words of judgment. There’s plenty to think about, from my own personal actions and attitudes to the ways we as individuals and as members of church and society are complicit in larger systems.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a friend from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia last summer in Minneapolis. He shared some strong words of challenge, identifying our tendency in “progressive” U.S. churches to congratulate ourselves for good works and acts of “solidarity” with the poor and oppressed, while steadfastly refusing to look at the ways our own wealth and privilege—things we like to imagine can be used as tools for good—are maintained by the oppression and impoverishment of others.
But even as these words ring in my ears, I find myself hopeful. And this is why: the king who speaks words of judgment and warning in our scripture today is the very One who came to live among us, sharing in our joys and sorrows, and offering us a radically new way of living a life of God-centered love. Let us follow Him.
Emmanuel, God with us, open our eyes to the beauty of your life and love; open our understanding to the ways we do and the ways we don’t care for you in our relationships with others; open our hearts, enter our lives, and transform them into courageous and faithful instruments of your love. Amen.