Coming in Judgement - Advent Reflection - Week Three

These reflections can used in a variety of ways, by individuals or groups, please amend as necessary. The complete series on PDF including introduction is available here.
Someone read aloud: Matt.25. 1-46

Reflection. Preferably read by one voice .with everyone having a copy to follow.

Judgement! The very word makes me shiver, -partly because of its reality and the seriousness of God’s judgement of me. Partly, too, because of the way this idea has been used to criticise, abuse and manipulate people. Many people live with the miserable image, (that others have imposed on them), of a God who is just waiting for them to make mistakes, so he can jump on them. So where does the truth lie?

In the Old Testament, the role of judge was part of the responsibility of kingship. The king’s job was to listen to complaints and make a decision on how those situations were to be put right. Judgement was assumed to include both the vindication of the righteous and the punishment of evil, but has an emphasis of the judge actively fighting against the evil.

In modern British law, the aim of the judgement is to restore the imbalance between the parties involved, but it cannot go beyond restoring that balance or relationship. If it was an unjust balance to begin with, the law can only restore what it was presented at the start. But God’s judgement contains elements of the nature of his own Being. He will not merely restore to status quo, but longs to put the whole situation of Humanity right, -right by his standards. He actively fights to make things good again, -better, even, than they began. The way he does this is through the Cross. God’s judgement begins with his self-giving for us at Calvary. God’s justice breaks down barriers. He is no tyrannical monarch ruling from a distance. He is the one who became Flesh, to heal Flesh, and save it from itself. As Jane Williams put it:

“ the Christian story of Christmas tells us that God is not content to let the world drift into separate pieces. Instead, God comes to bring things back together, to share our lives so that we can share the life
of God.” *

The expression ‘God’s Judgement’ also has strong association with ideas of the Day of Judgement, at the end of the world, or perhaps at the time of our death. In this passage, Jesus is engaging with these ideas in his continued warnings to us. He who is about to go to the Cross and play that ‘crucial’ part in judgement, is reminding us that we, too, have a part to play in everything being put right. He gives us three pictures to illustrate this role of ours.

First is a picture of a wedding. The women are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom, (sorry girls, the men get all the attention here!). His arrival is the big moment they have all prepared for. It is unthinkable that they have not got everything ready. Would a bridesmaid turn up late for the wedding because she decided to use public transport and the bus broke down? Would the groom’s mother arrive without her dress on? This is a big occasion, we take it seriously, we make sure we have thought it through and made provision. God is not impressed by our half-hearted commitment to waiting for him.

The second picture is one often used in relation to our contribution to church life, but now we can see that its context is actually one of judgement. We have each received gifts/abilities from God, to use for the coming of his Kingdom. It matters not a bit whether you and I start with the same amount. What counts is how we have used it, worked with it, increased it, by the end. That’s one of the things we will be judged on. We need to take Godly risks of effort and application, developing and refining those gifts in the service of others.

The third picture is one which turns our ideas on their heads and leaves us speechless. There used to be much controversy over whether the Gospel was about salvation by faith, or about the ‘Social Gospel’. This is the parable which addresses that particular question. All the nations are gathered and all the people are separated by God into two groups, one to the right and one to the left. Even as I write that, I shudder to remember how the Nazi officers at Birkenau did exactly that to the millions of Jews who arrived in cattle trucks at the concentration camp. One group was taken off to the camp to work, the other was taken to the gas chambers at the far end of the site. Instant categorisation, -and on what criterion? On the judgement of the camp doctor as to whether they were a valuable work resource or not.

On what criteria will the Son of Man make his decision? I can’t hear anything here about claiming the name of Jesus, or having asked him into our hearts, or being sincere in worship. Not a word! The one criterion is: have you treated other people as you would have treated Christ? Or to turn in around: have you treated Christ the way you treated other people?

It ain’t what you claim, it’s the way that you live it, that’s what gets results!
Belief in Jesus is meaningless unless it stimulates us into appropriate behaviour.
Maybe this is how we can explore what we truly believe: if I don’t act on it, do I really believe it?

*Jane Williams, Approaching Christmas, 2005, page 67.

The complete series on PDF including introduction is available here.

E. Christine Bailey, 16/11/2008