Forming Faith Blog

Judgment? (April 7, 2019)

A young person holding a senior's hand without judgment.

Lent is almost over. We have journeyed through Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven and what it is like. We end our tour with this story about judgment.

Harsh Judgment

The first thing my Lutheran-educated mind latches onto is the difficult theology here. If entry into God’s kingdom is what we commonly call “salvation,” then doesn’t this story tell us that entry is based on what we do? But, what about “faith, not works” in Ephesians 2:8? And then, since Jesus is talking about judgment based on concrete actions, and since we do tons of concrete actions throughout a day, much less a lifetime, how does this work for the times we have served others and the times we have neglected others? And, those who failed to care for the least of these (how many times?) are sent into punishment. This gives me a theological headache!

Dichotomous Thinking

Related, but different, is a problem I see throughout Scripture. Here, Jesus separates people into “blessed” and “accursed.” Elsewhere, people are divided into “righteous” and “wicked.” (Matthew 12:33-37). But, in our experience, don’t we know that people (and even actions) are often a mixture of both? Seeing things in terms of two opposite categories, black or white, is technically called dichotomous thinking and is considered unhealthy. Frustratingly, I cannot resolve these conflicts of theology without just repeating doctrine.

The Point

Instead of focusing on the judgment in this passage, I can focus on the point, summarized by Matthew 25:40. In this passage, Jesus is emphasizing, in the starkest terms, the importance of serving others. In our faith formation products, we state the Point as simply: When we serve others, we serve Jesus himself. In fact, Jesus is stating a unification of the two greatest commandments: Loving (serving) others is loving (serving) God, inversely, we love God by loving others. This is also directly in line with one of the refrains in the Hebrew Bible: caring for people who are widowed, orphaned, or living far from home (Zechariah 7:10). That is, serving the “least of these.”

Person-First Language

In a quick aside, you may notice that, in the previous sentence, I used a wordier “people who are…” construction instead of the common “widows, orphans, strangers” language. While we are not perfect in doing it, at Spirit & Truth Publishing we recommend the use of what is known as person-first language (PFL). In its simplest form, PFL uses the basic formula “a person with (who is) …” So, instead of saying “the poor” or “the disabled,” you would say “people who are poor” or “a person with a disability.” This ensures that we are first emphasizing someone’s personhood (and therefore their inherent dignity as a child of God) rather than their condition (economic or physical). This might seem like a minor issue of speech, but how we speak affects how we think, and what we are teaching. It is critical not to define a person by their ability or situation.

General vs. Concrete

Back on point, focusing on v. 40 (and passing over the judgment piece) is not a unique move on my part. This is, in fact, a well-known verse and naturally a focal point of this passage. What I would urge you to do, whether you are preaching, leading worship, facilitating a small group, or teaching a class, is to move from the general to the concrete. A general statement would be to “feed those who are hungry.” That’s important (and a direct connection to the Bible passage), but that is more difficult to immediately put into action. And, action is the whole point here. What is more useful is to help participants make the move to a specific, concrete action. When looking at feeding those who are hungry, guide participants to think about who is hungry in your community and what is one specific action they (or your congregation) can do to help. Perhaps, collecting nonperishable food or monetary donations for a local food pantry. Easter Sunday might be an impactful time to do this.

In addition to a call to action, for which one or two concrete actions would be doable and not overwhelming, ask participants to brainstorm who needs help and what we can do about that need, for all the presented categories. This is one of the steps in our free activity “Service Charades,” which is a fun way to think and learn about service opportunities for all ages. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) curriculum but can easily be adapted to many settings and audiences.

May God continue to bless you this Lenten season.

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Lent is almost over! However, it’s not too late to order Spring Living the Word faith formation resources (covering Lent through Pentecost Sunday)! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the materials and start using them!

Year 2 (2019-2020) products have launched! Check out the announcement blog post for more details! All products are ready to order, and you can see which product quarters are available for immediate download on our Release Dates web page.

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence. The 2018-2019 Planning Tool and Scope & Sequence are still available to download, too!