1087) Sheep, Goats, and Taxes

MATTHEW 25:31-46:

     (Jesus told them this parable):  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

     “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

     “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

     “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

     “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

     “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

     “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

     “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

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    This parable of Jesus gives us two helpful perspectives.  The first perspective is the one discussed in the previous two meditations, as we learn that Jesus himself considers any help given to the poor and needy as help given to himself.  We may not feel like we owe the poor anything , but we know that we owe Jesus everything.  That is a crucial perspective to keep in mind.

     The parable also gives us a long term perspective on our generosity.  What help we give, or do not give, will be remembered for a very long time, says Jesus, and it will have eternal consequences.  That message in the parable cannot be missed.  

     Eternity might be difficult to imagine, but this future perspective can be illustrated in a way easily understood.

     The deadline for filing your income taxes is in two weeks.  When you prepare your taxes, you look for every possible deduction.  Charitable gifts are tax deductible, so when you go through your box of receipts you are thrilled every time you find a receipt for money donated.  However, you may not have been as thrilled when you made the donation.  Perhaps you resented feeling obligated, maybe you felt you couldn’t afford it at the time, maybe you and your spouse had a disagreement over how much to give and you lost and you gave more than you thought necessary, and maybe you just don’t like writing out a check and not getting anything back for it.  But even if you are the type of person who does not ever feel generous and never enjoys contributing to anything, you are, at tax time, very happy about each and every donation receipt you find.  Tax-time puts an entirely different perspective on your contributions.  What may have been an irritation a few months ago, is now eagerly sought out and great to find.

     That is how it will be on that last day when our Lord reviews with us the good that we did and the good that we failed to do– as he does in the parable.  Then, we will be happy about every bit of help given, and not just because it was tax deductible.  Then, as Luther said, “When we see God in all His goodness and glory, we will want to spit on ourselves for not doing more to serve him in this life when we had the chance.”

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits  (1491-1556)