Matthew 25.31-46. We all know it. Parable of the sheep and the goats. In it, Jesus speaks nothing about confessing the Son of Man or believing or sinning no more or who comes through what gate.
He says we will be judged based on what we do to the ‘least of these.’ Did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner? If so, off to Heaven you go. If not? Off to Hell. And when you ask when you did or didn’t do these things, Jesus says that whether you did or didn’t do them, you did or didn’t do them to Him.
A powerful rebuttal to anyone who thinks religion is just an intellectual exercise, or mere confession of doctrine, or simply following a laundry list of ‘thou shalt nots.’
But – here’s the big part – Matthew 25 is not the sum total of Sacred Tradition. It is not the whole Bible. it is not the entire Gospel. There are other chapters in Scripture. It finds itself in good company, of course. There is much, from the Old Testament to the New, insisting we care for the widow and orphan, feed the hungry, give to our brethren and wayfarers who are in want.
Yet there is more than good deeds. Nonetheless, somehow it’s becoming about good deeds and nothing else. Whatever you do wrong or believe doesn’t matter. Jesus showed mercy to sinners, so fugetaboutit. Assuming any of it is still sin, it’s forgiveness and mercy all around. No condemnation, and barely an admonition to sin no more.
As for what we believe? I’m not sure that’s even a factor. Believe in Jesus, reject Jesus, piss on Jesus – it matters not. Again, it’s that you follow the Gospel of the Sheep and the Goats.
And more than that, it’s no longer that you follow the parable, but it seems to my eyes that a growing number in the Church are insisting there is only one appropriate way to do so. That is, you really get no blessing chips for being charitable, or helping the poor, or welcoming the refugee, or feeding the hungry. You get them by attaching yourself to various political policies or economic agendas. Support certain government programs? Yes. Reject those programs while personally giving of yourself to the poor and needy? That won’t suffice. And so it is for other works of mercy.
So I ask, when did this happen? When did we decide that since salvation can be outside of communion with the Church, it means your relationship with Christ doesn’t matter? When did we decide that our calls to purity and holiness, while impressive, are irrelevant for our eternal destinations? It’s the economy stupid, and therein lies salvation?
For that matter, when did we decide that loving God with all our hearts is optional, and loving our neighbors can only happen, not by what we do, but by how we vote and what social and political positions and policies we embrace? That honestly seems beyond mere salvation by works. It almost smacks of heresy. As if believing in Jesus or loving God with all your heart or loving your neighbor, while certainly praiseworthy, are not sufficient for the salvation that only adherence to modern political and economic theories can achieve. Compared to that, maybe salvation by works doesn’t seem so bad.