Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Matthew 25:31-46: Model of the Church

Jesus tells us that He is in solidarity with the poorest of the poor: 
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.
(in Matthew 25:31-46) 
This passage is often referred to as the Judgment of the Nations.

I think it should also be called the Judgment of the Church.

The reason is simple and based on two points:  As the passage says, Jesus is in such a close relationship with the poor that He could say that whatever is done to them is also done to Him.  The second point is that the Church claims to be the Body of Christ. 

It therefore follows that in order to claim to be the Body of Christ, a group must therefore also be in deep solidarity with the poorest of the poor.  It makes no sense otherwise—how can His Body not be where He is??  Based on this passage, it seems pretty clear.
A group can have all the right beliefs in the world and even understand this passage with the best scholarship, but if folks are not actually in solidarity with the poor, are they actually being Church at all? 
In other words, to claim to be the Body of Christ it stands to reason that a group would have to meet the criteria for that Body.  Scripture gives many indicators as to what that may be, but certainly Matthew 25:31-46 is at the very least a major piece of the puzzle.  

This is perhaps a variation, or at least another perspective, on "The Church as Servant" in Models of the Church by Avery Dulles.

We often forget that Jesus was—among many things—a prophet.  as the Hebrew Scriptures have show us time and again, the best prophets are those who offer critique of both society and church.

I can leave it up to theologians to figure out whether this passage suggests that Jesus IS the poor, is IN the poor or is so deeply present to the poor that He—literally or symbolically—shares their fate.  Perhaps in some sense each is true.

The fact remains that Jesus is so close to the poor that when a hungry person knocks on our door asking for food, we can, in a very real sense, say that it is Christ knocking.  While it is an important exercise for the soul to ponder all the myriad dimensions of how that mystical relationship may work, it would be unwise to divert so much energy trying to figure that out that we forget that there is someone actually knocking at the door.  The biggest question for us as Church is:  How do we respond to this knock? 

Or perhaps even better:  Which side of the door should we be on?

Besides, we may actually have a better sense of what this passage means after taking a step in the direction of where we think the Gospel is leading us and then make adjustments while on the path.  It may be something that can only be fully known by practicing the Way of Jesus.


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