Parish of St Matthew the Apostle,
Douglas, Isle of Man
Father Tom ponders …… ‘Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25.40)
I am not a great fan of quoting chapter and verse of Scripture. There are two reasons for this. You must have a good memory and be able to explain why you have made this reference of Scripture to fit the situation you are in. Too often, Evangelicals site the words of Jesus without thinking about the context they were written or, indeed, who was writing the Gospel; the same can be said of our Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.
This month I have felt the need to quote a particular piece of Scripture from St Matthew; it is one of my favourites and I try, in my own small way, to live up to the expectations of Jesus. These words of Jesus are from St Matthew’s Gospel chapter 25.31-46. Jesus is speaking about the Last Judgement. This parable comes just before the Passion and death of Jesus. It is one of the most vivid parables Jesus ever spoke and the lesson is crystal clear: God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need. God’s judgement does not depend on the knowledge we have amassed or the fame that we have acquired or the fortune that we have gained, but on the help that we have given.
This parable teaches us about certain things which we must give. To begin with, Jesus selects the need of giving the hungry food, the thirsty – something to drink, welcome the stranger, cheering the sick, visiting the prisoner. None of this has anything to do with giving money or being given an award by the Government or Her Majesty the Queen. It is about giving simple, human help to those we meet each day.
The second thing this parable teaches us is that this help must not be calculating. Those who were helped did not think that they were helping Christ, and thereby piling up eternal goof favour in the eyes of God. They helped because they could not stop themselves. It was natural, instinctive, a quite uncalculating reaction of the loving heart. ‘If we thought it was you we would have gladly helped; but we thought it was some low-life who was not worth helping.’
Lastly, Jesus confronts us with the wonderful truth that all such help which is given is given to Jesus. In each other we see Jesus; to help one another is to help Jesus; to be generous to one another is to be generous to Jesus.
It is this understanding of what the parable of the Last Judgement means that has brought me to this point.
When I was a curate in Suffolk there would be people who would come and tell me things because they believed I would run straight to the Rector, my training Incumbent, and tell him the latest gossip. Some of what I was told was amusing, some was nonsense, and some was down right spiteful. I discussed this with my Spiritual Director and asked his advice. I can still hear those words of Fr Derick to this day, ‘Tell them, I don’t want to know.’ How simple this sounded and yet how difficult I thought it would be. Not long after this conversation, I found myself listening to gossip and I uttered those words, ‘I don’t want to know.’ Suddenly, I was liberated. The gossip was shot down in flames and quite angry that I didn’t want to hear this ‘important information.’ I didn’t.
While I have been recovering from my hip operation I have heard a couple of pieces of gossip. On the one hand, there was a lot of made-up information; totally untrue. On the other, it was more about that person’s opinions; they are yours, keep them to yourself. When we look at this situation in the context of Jesus’ parable, gossip has no place in a Christian community or family. Would we talk about Jesus like that? No. Do we talk openly about what we think are Jesus’ faults. No. Why? Because Jesus said, ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of my family, you did it to me.’
In this parable Jesus reminds us that what we do and say to each other, we are saying and doing it to him. I have been quite upset about what others are saying about people who are my church ‘family’; those whose cure of souls I have. From now on, ‘I don’t want to know.’ We all have a human right to express our opinions, but if they are to the detriment of others, ‘I don’t want to know.’
St Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and when he came across a beggar, who asked for money and he didn’t have any, gave him his cloak. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus was there with them. In his dream he saw Jesus wearing the cloak. One of the angels asked Jesus, ‘Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?’ Jesus answered, ‘My friend, Martin, gave it to me.’
With prayer and best wishes,