C Cycle – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
There are times when the gospel message is so direct and yes even blunt in its harshness. Today the words of Jesus point out our mistaken concept of what we must do to be welcomed into the kingdom of god. This should not shock us because the scriptures have been consistent and clear about God desiring our hearts not our sacrifices. These readings today should make us examine our motives behind our acts of service because it seems to contradict some other words of praise Jesus gave us about serving others.
One of the reasons you need to read the scriptures and meditate on them daily is for you to understand the flow of the gospel message. Individual passages can only be understood in the context of the entire message of God’s plan for us. Hearing only one passage or listening to only one section of the scriptures can easily lead us to live our lives in a manner that is not bad, but we can deceive ourselves into believing we are doing God’s will and instead we are not. If you think that cannot happen just listen to the many times Jesus admonished the Pharisees.
Just before his betrayal Jesus speaks of the judgment and His words again leave no doubt about who will be rewarded. It is those who serve without expecting to be praised or rewarded. Those words in Matthew’s gospel are not much different than His words in today’s gospel. Listen to the response of those who find out their actions pleased God: “Lord when did we see you thirsty and give you drink or hungry and feed you, naked and clothe you, and when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you” (Mt. 25:38*39). They served not to gain favor with God but because their transformed hearts moved them to “conform to the image of Jesus” (Rom. 8:29) which we are told is God’s desire for us.
Just before Jesus spoke those words about those who would sit at his right hand, He spoke the parable of the talents. Unless we connect the entirety of the gospel message it is easy to believe all we must do is to use our gifts, and all will be well. But if we connect the two sayings, we find out more is required from us than just using our gifts. We must allow our gifts to flow from a natural desire to serve and use our gifts not from a motive of using our good works as a balance to avoid a harsh penalty for our sinfulness.
James the disciple wrote in his epistle “faith without works is useless” (Jas. 2:20). Useless, it is meaningless to do good works unless they flow from a transformed heart. James understood this for like all the disciples there was much he never understood after three years of following Jesus. Pentecost was the defining moment for all of them. Paul the disciple believed he was following the dictates of the law by his arresting the so called Christians who believed Jesus was the messiah. He had his moment with the Holy Spirt and just like the disciples he served all the while declaring himself unworthy and the greatest sinner.
James not only said faith without works is useless he also said, “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 20:26). Perhaps we too quick to believe we understand the message without truly taking the time to digest and to pray and reflect on the entirety of the scriptures. James is talking about faith in the promises of God therefore we must not confuse faith with religious practices and our attempts to outweigh our sins by attempts to lessen the penalty for sin by doing good.
Jesus in today’s gospel is warning us not to live our faith expecting a reward because we are doing things in the name of Jesus. He is telling us all attempts to do that will fail because those works do not come from faith but from fear. You can hear our voices saying those very words; Lord we did all these things in your name. Works without faith is dead and that is why Jesus responds to the motives behind our good works by letting us know He is not impressed in fact will clearly say, “I do not know you, out of my sight.”
Is this saying what we do each week as we come together useless? Certainly not! What we do as we gather is critical to our spiritual journey into the heart of God. We should desire to be here each week to worship, to give God thanks and to be built up by the community of faith. We should desire to be here each week because our faith is challenged by the Word of God in the scriptures and by those who have responded to the call of God to speak the word of God clearly to help you embrace the life God desires you to experience.
Isaiah certainly did that and he reminds us today that God knows our thoughts and yes, He knows our works, and this means God knows the motivation behind our works. We may deceive ourselves, but we will never deceive God. But notice Isiah shows us something we must keep in our hearts for what he says in a huge part of where our faith should be centered. Isaiah speaking for God said, “all will know my glory.” God desires us to know and stand on the fact he desires to embrace us and for us to be standing under His glory spout, pouring His love and mercy on each us. God told us it is His desire that none should perish – not one.
To accomplish this and to change our motivation from pleasing to serving God promised us He would send the Spirit change our hearts. If we have our Pentecost moment, our moment of encountering Christ and the Holy Spirit as Paul did, we will have our hearts reoriented, so we desire a relationship with God as lovers instead of an authority figure we must satisfy.