My husband and my son are both taking online classes this summer. This means lots of books to read, online lectures, discussion forums, papers, and the inevitable exams. With these classes, there may only be two or three tests, so doing well on them is key to doing well in the class. So when the lecture comes or the information is posted about what the exam will cover, everyone pays close attention. You may recall classmates (or maybe it was you) in high school or college interrupting a lecture with the $64 question: “Is this going to be on the test?” How the instructor answered that question determined whether we listened for the next few minutes or went back to doodling in the margins of our notebooks. None of us wanted to waste time studying things that seemingly didn’t matter.
In Matthew 24, the disciples ask Jesus a couple of important questions – “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus answers their questions in a lengthy passage called the Olivet Discourse. Then He gives His guys a couple of parables to help them understand. After the parable of the talents, one which underscores the importance of seizing the opportunity to demonstrate faithfulness, stewardship, and diligence in service to the master, Jesus gives them one more admonition.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Matthew 25:35-36
When He comes in His glory, a separation will be made between His sheep and the goats. His sheep will be admitted to eternal rest prepared for them from the foundation of the world, while the goats are consigned to outer darkness. Without arguing the eschatological timing of this separation, let’s focus on the criteria in Matthew 25:35-36.
Feeding the hungry.
Satisfying the thirsty.
Welcoming the outsiders.
Clothing the naked.
Visiting the sick.
Caring for the prisoners.
Jesus, the King, explains, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40
My friends, this is what is on the test.
Did our genuine faith lead us to care for others? James hits this hard in his short book.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:15-17
Did we see the unseen? Are we generous? Did we love the marginalized? Did we stand up for those who have no voice?
Or did we hoard our resources? Did we expend them on ourselves? Did we make our names great rather than growing the kingdom? Did we cross over to the other side of the road so we didn’t have to see, so we didn’t have to get involved?
This is not to say that we stop doing the one thing that only we as believers can do and that is spreading the gospel. Not at all, but as the gospel goes out, compassion and caring go with it. We feed the hungry because we know where they can find the Bread of Life. We satisfy the thirsty because we can offer them springs of living water. We welcome the outsiders because Jesus said. “Come unto Me.” We clothe the naked because He offers us His righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags. We visit the sick because the Great Physician has healed us of the sin that was destroying our souls. We care for the prisoners because we have been set free.
Or we abdicate that responsibility, that stewardship and let governments or agencies or nonprofits try it. The body of Christ will continue to grow weak and ineffective and irrelevant.
I believe we have a moment of testing right now. I know Covid-19 has presented challenges to believers and churches unlike any we have seen. But this season of unrest and upheaval in our societies is even greater. The test papers have been handed out. We know what’s on the exam.
How will we respond?