A comedian died and was waiting at the gates of Heaven, where he overheard St Peter assessing the people in front of him in the queue the way we’ve just heard in today’s gospel reading. The comedian felt ashamed and embarrassed that he couldn’t recall doing any of the good deeds listed. When it came to his turn, he approached St Peter with a heavy heart and he hung his head, certain that the gates of Heaven would be shut against him. The comedian had already mentally prepared a short apology, but before he had a chance to open his mouth St Peter greeted him with open arms and a big grin on his face, and said: ‘It’s good to see you here! You’ve made so many people laugh and thus lifted their spirits. Come on in, we’ve all been waiting here for you!’
The vision of Judgment Day, as presented in today’s gospel, is one of my favourite passages in the Bible. You might find that surprising, as a good half of it tells of everlasting, irreversible condemnation delivered as a punishment. Some of you might think that’s exactly the reason why I like this passage, perceiving it as a source of perverse satisfaction and contentment that all those immoral and irreligious people will get what they deserve. But, no. I find this vision of Judgment Day to be a source of great hope for myself and for my fellow human beings. How’s that?
The list used by Jesus in this parable obviously isn’t exhaustive. There are many more ways of helping people in need. But what this checklist exemplifies is the right attitude: selflessness, openness, looking further than the end of one’s own nose, and so on. People with the right attitude perform good deeds kind of automatically without even thinking about it; it comes naturally without looking for reward, appreciation or payback. Some time ago I watched a video of a young reporter in the USA who gave 100 USD to a homeless man at random. The reporter assumed the money would be spent on alcohol. The situation was filmed with hidden cameras. The plot seemed to be working out, as the homeless man did indeed go into a nearby shop selling alcohol. After a while he emerged carrying laden bags. The reporter followed him at a distance to film the homeless man boozing away the money he’d got. To the reporter’s astonishment, it turned out that the money had been spent entirely on food, which the homeless man brought to his friends and shared with them. The selfless attitude of the homeless embarrassed the judgmental reporter.
There’s another interesting and inspirational aspect of this vision of Judgment Day. As I said earlier, the list is by no means comprehensive. However, it’s long enough to present a certain pattern. Neither religious affiliation nor religious practice features here. The sole benchmark that matters seems to be active and practical charity. Well, if that’s the case, what are we doing here right now? The answer is simple: this is our ‘training ground’ where we learn the ‘what, why, when, where and how’ of an active charitable attitude. You can think about religious practice as a well-equipped toolbox that we can use to develop charity – to grow in it and to persist in acting on it. Religious devotion and piety play an extremely important part as long as they aren’t practised exclusively for their own sake. In a moment, spoken from the altar, we will hear the words of Jesus: ‘This is my body, given up for you. This my blood, poured out for you. Do this in memory of me.’ We will accept Jesus’ sacrifice when we receive his Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Eventually we will leave the church and go back to everyday life to act charitably in memory of Him. I’m sure you won’t be short of opportunities to do good deeds, even if these include making people smile.
Photo by maxlkt