The Gracious Judge

Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:32-40

Felipe had an evangelistic tract in his hand. He wanted to read it aloud to us. Unfortunately, it had a limited focus. It was obsessed with hell. It described the torments that awaited those who rejected Christ. There wasn’t much about the gospel; just fear and death. Jesus was only a means to escape this impending damnation and nothing more. I asked Felipe what he thought about hell. He said that he believed in its existence and he almost sure who was going to be there: those who listened to hard rock music. I wasn’t sure why this sub-culture was singled out for eternal doom. Felipe is a kind and forgiving person. He hates to see anyone suffer or be bullied in the streets. Besides it is highly unlikely that he has never met a rocker. I can only conclude that he heard it from a street preacher whose sermons often include a citation of those who are destined to hell. The list always contains the usual suspects. Felipe has friends who are gay, drug addicts, thieves and transvestites. Rockers are the only ones with whom he does not keep company. It is in our human nature to send those whom we don’t know or dislike to hell. When it comes to hell, we are always very selective about who goes there and usually they are people outside our intimate circles. We believe that the ones we love always find themselves in heaven. However, God loves everyone. He cares deeply for every soul. They are all His precious creations. He does not desire to lose a single soul. The God that Jesus revealed is not looking to send people to hell. He is opening the gates of eternal life to the world. Anyone who preaches the gospel should focus on the gift of eternal life and not the threat of death.

Felipe’s tract was based on the parable from the above quote. The major themes of this teaching are judgement, eternal life and death. These can be frightening themes. However, Jesus was not interested in inducing the fear of death into our hearts. This would be consider the lowest form of persuasion even in Jesus’ day. Any philosophy or doctrine that depended on fear to convince people of its veracity was despised then. Besides, Jesus never used fear as a tool of evangelism. Therefore, we need to step back and look at this parable as a revelation of God’s love which casts out all fear despite the uncomfortable and perhaps fearful themes.

There is a scandalous element in this parable that is often overlooked. It was not good news for those who share similar religious affinities with the Pharisees. These were concerned about exclusion from eternal life and not so much about inclusion. Jesus appears to have very “low” standards for entrance into paradise. The King did not require doctrinal purity or orthodoxy nor any religious affiliation as a prerequisite. All one has to do is to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned. These are not difficult things. Anyone can do them. It doesn’t mean that these actions earn the right to eternal life. It just means that the King is a gracious Judge who chooses to remember selective things.

The good news of this parable is that many in this city of São Paulo are going to be included into God’s plan of salvation. Every day we see people buying food for the children. They buy good and sometimes expensive food, not just leftovers, for the children and teens. They do it gratuitously. What I mean to say is that they don’t expect anything in return, not even gratitude. I once saw an elderly man put a package of hot food next to a sleeping homeless adult. He did it discreetly without calling any attention to himself. He did not want any recognition for his charitable act. However, Jesus, according to the parable, will remember his actions.

Giving someone something to drink is even easier. Again no one in the streets dies of thirst. Waiters go out of their way to bring a cup of water whenever a homeless person asks for a cup of water. We witnessed this with our own eyes yesterday. Jesus remembers their extra effort. People constantly donate clothes to the homeless. During the Christmas season, some people actually buy brand new clothes for the children and teens. The problem is that our children just can’t seem to hold onto them. This is not a lack of desire on their part. They like new and beautiful clothes. Unfortunately, the government likes confiscate their personal belongings but it doesn’t stop the people from bringing new clothes to the children. Principalities and powers of this world can’t appreciate the efforts of these people, yet Jesus will never forget their kindness.

It is harder for a regular person to visit our children in the hospitals and prisons. However, it still doesn’t hinder some people. There are more people who do this than we realize. When Danyel was hospitalized after the accident, he said that his stay in the hospital was actually quite pleasant. There were many good people who visited him there. People took their pets to comfort the sick especially on the ward where the poorest of the poor were interned. Our children and teens who are incarcerated, often look forward to visits because it was the only time that they feel like human beings. Thankfully, there are many who do visit them. Jesus knows all of these people by name.

From the looks of it, heaven is going to be crowded. Maybe Jesus needs to raise the bar a little higher. It seems to be too easy to get into heaven. All we need to do is to listen and obey that tiny voice in our souls that beckons us to walk in the path of Love. Unfortunately, not all listen to this voice. Some prefer that this world becomes a place of misery and suffering. However, we are not going to dwell on these people. Their lives are a living hell. Bitterness and hatred are punishments that we create for ourselves. God does not have room for them in His creation. Those who insist on punishment and revenge do not understand the God that Jesus is revealing to us. We need to pray for them that we will know the Jesus that said these beautiful words,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”-Matthew 11:28-29

Danyel saw us sitting by ourselves on the square. He does not like it when we are left alone. He is very considerate child. There are days when it takes a while for the children to come up to where we are. Danyel wouldn’t have any of it. He refused to let us be alone for that long. He came and sat next to us and wanted to play a game. Any game will do he said. It happened to be a game between him and me. We talked as we played. I forgot the context of our conversation but Danyel wanted to say something to me. He said that even though that the children are using paint thinner all the time and sometimes they tend to neglect us, it doesn’t mean that they don’t remember the love and care that we show them. Then he smiled. He was done saying what he wanted to say. It sounded like Jesus just spoke to me.

So, finally, are the rockers going to hell? I don’t know. I can’t see into the heart of any person. Jesus, our King, knows each person intimately. He is not going to judge them according to their shortcomings. He chooses to forget our sins but He remembers all the acts of love that we do when no one is watching. This is the kind of King we serve; the King that waits and catches someone doing good.