The Gospel reading this morning, July 19th, was from the 20th chapter of Matthew, verses 17-28. When I was in seminary, I was assigned to write a homily on this exact passage as an assignment for my homiletics class. I also wrote a Moral Theology paper on the poor, which I share here.
It is an interesting passage. In verses 17-19, Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to be put to death. One would think that the natural reaction to such an announcement by a beloved friend would be great sorrow and concern. Instead, starting with verse 20, we see the more natural reaction of sinners – an attempt by the sons of Zebedee to manipulate their Master into placing them in the top position in the coming Kingdom, using their mother as a buffer to go to Jesus.
Such behavior is really quite reflective of our natural tendencies to take care of ourselves first and foremost. Anyone who would criticize these disciples for their insensitivity only need look in a mirror to see someone who has done the same thing somewhere in their history – and most likely more than once!
The Gospel commands of feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked (Matthew 25: 33-36) sound lovely to the ear, but in practice, just about all of us fail. Jesus didn’t mean that we give a once-a-year donation to some charitable organization so that we could soothe our conscience with the idea that we are really good people. He is speaking of a lifestyle, a way of living that is consciously and continuously aware of those in need around us and seeks to do whatever can be done to alleviate their pain. I have seen a few holy people who live life in this manner – Sue and Vern Rudy in Harrisburg PA, who care for the poor through their The Silence of Mary Home. Randy and Evelyn James and their organization, The Paul Stefan Home. These are two couples I know who walk the walk every day – living saints among us who wake up every morning to fight arrogant government bureaucrats who place obstacles in their way, and a general public that does not see the need.
The response of the disciples is in line with the way most of us approach life (me included!). We are going to get ours first, and if there is any leftover, then we might throw a little bit in the direction of those in need. How vastly different from the Christianity of the first century where the newly formed community “had all things in common.”
Act 4:32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.Act 4:33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Act 4:34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
Suggest this today to most Christians and you will be given the evil eye and called a “Communist” (or something worse). Yet such sacrificial giving is at the heart of serving others. It was our Lord Himself Who showed us the depth of sacrificial giving by setting aside His glory as God – the Second Person of the Trinity – and became a creature of coarse flesh. Look at how He, Who should have been served by the disciples in the Upper Room, bows to do the work of a common slave in washing their feet. He Who wears a crown of thorns should have walked among us with a crown of gold. When Jesus instructs us to give up everything and follow Him, He is not kidding, for He gave up all – even His very life unto death – that we might have the riches which He offers us in His Kingdom.
I wonder how many Christians will waltz up to Christ on the Judgment Day, thinking they are in pretty good shape, and find that what they thought was service to God was really giving Him the table scraps of a life of self-indulgence. I have said it before – I say it again. What possible excuse can you give for owning a two thousand dollar, 72″ plasma TV with all the extras when there are people in your neighborhood who cannot pay their electric bill through no fault of their own? How many pairs of shoes do you need in your closet? Who are you trying to impress with twenty different Armani suits? God’s not impressed. If anything, He calls you a fool!
This is so contrary to American consumerist thinking wherein those who have served themselves and laid up much treasure are considered wise. In contraindication of what Jesus taught, the Puritans of early America felt that the best way to prove that they were “of the elect” and assured of their salvation was the acquiring of wealth. To them, obtaining wealth meant that they were “God’s elect friends.” Somehow they missed all those verses about charity and caring for the needy.
So my thought this morning, as I read the last verse in that passage, where the Son of Man declared that He came to serve was this: “How utterly different than the Christianity of today, where the majority think that Jesus is still supposed to serve them at the snap of a finger.”
After reading this Gospel passage where our Lord said He came to serve, I began to wonder what our country would look like if we really took Him seriously? People like my friend in Milwaukee, Anna, wouldn’t live from month to month wondering if she is going to have enough money for her medicine. She wouldn’t be living in a home with almost $100K in equity that she can’t refinance and get her hands on because the banks only care about profits and not people. If we, as Christians, took our Lord’s words seriously, there would be hundreds of tiny home communities for the poor, not just ten. And government agencies would not stand in the way of those building such communities. Christians in government would fear to offend Christ before they passed some onerous law to give the rich more tax breaks and more money while at the same time grinding the faces of the poor. Imagine going through your day not looking for ways to make more money, gain more power, or acquire more prestige among men, but rather looking for someone to serve in love.
In short, it wouldn’t be the America we know.
A truly “Christian America” would really be a lovely place in which to live.