Like a lot of squishy liberals, I don’t want to think about anyone being sent to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. I’m more of a “my Father’s house has many dwelling places” kind of girl. Any of the speeches or parables that involve “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (or, as my brother called it when he was a child, “teeth-smashing”) often leave me a little sad for the poor loser who got left out in the cold.
And yet I love the story of the sheep and the goats from Matthew’s Gospel. I love it because it gives us direction. It tells us what to do in clear, uncomplicated terms. Tend to people’s needs, and tend to the needs of all people.
I know that faith is complicated, and that what matters to me is not going to be what matters to other people. Just because I have a “Matthew 25” spirituality doesn’t mean that others will. What shocks me is how many people who proclaim to follow Christ completely ignore this passage. I am amazed because for me, this passage is what it’s all about.
Who makes up “the least brothers of mine”? Children, the elderly, and those who can’t advocate for themselves. Criminals, and cranky, smelly homeless people. Murderers and terrorists. Mexicans and Muslims. Republicans and Democrats.
When we welcome the stranger, we not only offer then hospitality of place but hospitality of heart. This has always been my challenge. I can feed the hungry all day long, but when I’m called on to open my heart to others, to welcome them in and love them, I struggle. This is why I need the reminder that these ‘least brothers and sisters’ is not confined to the people I really like or the people it is easy to love. To be the Christian I want to be, I need to open my heart to people I can’t stand, to those it is not easy to love, to those who have done terrible things, and even to myself. I do this not because I want “to inherit the Kingdom prepared for me” but because I think we deserve the Kingdom here on earth, and I can only share it with others when my heart is open with grace and charity.