Proper 29A; Pentecost Last: Christ the King Sunday; Matthew 25:31-46; 1126/17
My first real exposure to goats was when I was in Junction, Texas. Their spontaneity and unexpected shifts in temperament and behavior made sheep a far easier breed of animal to raise and herd.
I remember watching goats do all sorts of things like jump to the bed of a pickup and then up to stand on top of the cab.
Herdsmen used to separate sheep and goats when it was time to move them into a fold. The sheep would be fed grass while the goats would be left to fend for themselves and express their agitation watching the sheep eating the grass. Jesus uses this image of the sheep and the goats to describe the separating out of good and evil at the end of the age.
Every so often, especially during the recent series of events such as Sutherland Springs, the suffering often causes people to ask, Why does God allow evil? Why doesn’t God just stop the suffering?
When we experience suffering, it is a human reaction to want a quick fix to escape from its torment.
When one finally comes to realize that God created the natural order with personal autonomy, he/she also realizes that a quick fix is out of the realm of possibility. Evil cannot be quick-fixed.
God, unlike many people in power, does not control people. Relationship requires the freedom to choose. People create outcomes depending on what master they serve within them. In a sense we’re choosing our own judgement by our choices. We create what is within us. Jesus states this when he said that it is what comes out of a person that defiles him (Matt. 15). Devin Kelley created torment around him because hell is what lived within him.
If this passage brings fear to us then perhaps we’re misunderstanding it. We may have forgotten Jesus’ story that the whole story is in context of inheriting –that means receiving without our merit, heaven. When heaven is already living in us, the works we need to do will naturally emanate from within us.
The mistake many make is thinking that we have to do enough good deeds so we pass the final judgment. It’s not the deeds. It’s the relationship that matters.
Have you ever had someone supposedly do something for you when their motive was really self-serving? The disingenuous experience is incongruent with the Love of God that comes through authentic action grounded through Spiritual Union.
Judgement isn’t just in the last days. It’s going on all the time in context with the spiritual laws of creation binding it together. It’s not so much that God is a merciless judge handing out sentences and pardons on a consistent basis as it is we who choose the direction our lives take. We choose what we think will make us happy whether it be revenge or loving our neighbor as ourselves. If spiritual awareness is lacking, then we will believe self-serving behavior will bring happiness, until we realize the empty results. Once we realize that loving God and our neighbors as ourselves is our true nature, then happiness and life are created.
As time passes the path we choose and serve becomes fixed within us. We’re always seeking and serving something. It just depends what it is. We follow our true nature in God or we try to create something according to our own devices. At any time we have the choice to decide to change direction.
The habits we create for ourselves can make it seem that they are too powerful for us and then we surrender to a sense of helplessness or hopelessness where the habits and internal torment are progressively re-played and deepened. Surrendering to hopelessness is a sorrowful waste as there is nothing that God cannot transform when we seek to focus on discovering the Divine Image planted within ourselves. Even the Psalmist without the benefits of high technology knew this from his own experience some 3000 years ago. Psalm 65 from the Thanksgiving Day lectionary: “Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.” Part of the forgiveness of sins is having them removed. There is always hope for transformation from death to life. Christian community, Word, Sacrament, study and prayer can unloose the greatest slavery of all—the slavery of a separated self and separated relationship with God.
We have ended another year of spiritual practice. Advent is the time when we reassess the direction in which we want our lives to move. If we take the time to ponder and listen like Mary and Joseph, we will know what is it that we want the most and The Way will become clear.