Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 Psalm 100 Ephesians 1:15-23 Matthew 25:31-46
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting called ‘Salvador Mundi’ that is ‘Saviour of the World’, just sold for four hundred, fifty million dollars. It’s a beautiful painting in both its subject and its execution but as a piece of art, exquisite as it is, just a bit bigger than two sheets of paper it’s not really worth that much ! It gets its value as an investment. Like Da Vinci’s other most famous work the ‘Mona Lisa’ it will be such a draw that people by the busload will flock to see it and pay big bucks for doing so. A tiny work its value is multiplied exponentially for its owner, like the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:46).
That’s exactly what we hear about in the parable today. A small act of charity like feeding the hungry, quenching a thirst, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, visiting those in need multiplies into eternal life for the giver. Wow ! That’s a good deal but it seems that wherever we look there is a need. A person here in distress, a child looking forlornly into a camera somewhere else in the world, the needs of others are endless. That’s probably what the Rich Young Ruler could see when Jesus told him to sell everything and give the money to the poor (Luke 18:22). He went away feeling defeated. Is that what we have to do and feel ? Defeated by the enormity of the need ? No ! Like the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:42-44) every little bit helps towards relief of desperation and as an offering to God if it is given not out of your abundance but out of your poverty; sincerity in the gift is key. / In Jesus’ time the rich very often had gained their wealth by exploiting others and Jesus was criticizing the young man for his attachment, even love of money. Paul condemns that problem as you know when he speaks against the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10). Those too were the days of the one percent but there weren’t any of the protections against exploitation as there are now, you know labour laws, unions, human rights and safety legislation. Even with those controls and benefit payments from taxes and ordinary charity we still have many who do not have the wherewithal to get by. And of course we live in a global village and see that little child thousands of miles away who, rightly so, tugs at our heart strings. If I were to put myself in that child’s position I know I wouldn’t survive – frankly I don’t know how they do !
The rich young ruler had kept all the laws alright, even to the letter, but he had not captured the spirit of the law probably overlooking ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ that comes from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) and it seems it was hardly ever followed. The mindset at the time was to not harm your neighbour, that is, not harm them more than they had harmed you, you know ‘an eye for an eye’ (Exodus 21:23 ff) being proactive and reaching out was not the general rule.
So what to do ? Do the best we can to help those in distress, try giving until it hurts a little bit, give up something and offer the savings from that to someone who needs a bit more. I still hear ‘they got themselves into the mess, let them get themselves out’ but in your heart-of-hearts that’s neither realistic, nor helping, nor enough. / The gift we receive by helping financially or physically is eternal life, which is God’s response to our charitable efforts, if given sincerely, sacrificially. Our efforts are in no way what used to be called an Indulgence, that is giving so as to receive a reward, no for as the prayer goes ‘we are to give and not to seek for any reward’. But if we fail to do our best then the lake of fire is our next option !!
The lake of fire is properly understood to be God’s anger and disappointment at us and it lasts forever unless we repent. Like God’s favour it is everlasting, God doesn’t change He is immutable. At one point we will be called to answer for our sins, sins of commission and sins of omission, we have all sinned and will have to answer for them both. There is such a thing of course as Confession and Forgiveness, but asking for forgiveness because we are not going to do the good work we are called upon to do doesn’t fly. Forgiveness is never ‘beforegiveness’. But every ledger has two sides. Our charitable acts will be counted in our favour. Regardless, we will fall short but we must try. And that is where God’s everlasting Anger is offset by God’s everlasting Love. Your Confession and your Charity will be nowhere near enough to balance the books, that is why you need, why we all need, the Salvador Mundi the Saviour of the World.
Today we celebrate the Reign of Christ, Saviour of the World, because we desperately need these things that are just plain wrong to be put right, we need this world to be put right. There is not one of us who is not fed up with all the troubles around us the poverty, the crime, the illnesses, the lack of security, the wars and the lack of love that pervades this otherwise beautiful world. The Reign of Christ in His Kingdom will change all that, and we celebrate its beginning at Christmas with the birth of the Saviour.
Ezekiel, in our first reading records God’s words. He says we indeed live in a world covered by darkness, all those bad things I just recited, but in the Reign of Christ we are liberated from those things. Jesus came into this world to save us sinners He made up for all our deficiencies, wiped them away, to honour that gift we need to ask Jesus to reign in our hearts. When He truly reigns in our hearts He will reign in this world. I ask you to bring Jesus’ Reign here today and every day during Advent and beyond. Amen.