WE CAN”T CRAM FOR ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN
Ezekiel 34:11-19, Psalm 100, Matthew 25:31-46
November 24, 1996 by Tad Mitsui
I don”t want to be a teenager again. It is because I still have nightmares about exams. You must remember those frantic sleepless nights before examinations? Cramming, cramming without understanding what was going into the brain. It was like swallowing marbles which could never be digested. I always knew that there was a better way to prepare for exams. I knew that studying everyday little by little would make preparation a lot easier. Then the night before would be a simple process of organizing what is already in one”s brain. That should be a lot easier than cramming hundreds of pages in one night. I had known this, but I was too busy doing other things. So this fool suffered before every exam.
It is like that in the kingdom of God. If you have to cram to meet God, it is usually too late. The way to heaven is to be an ordinary good person everyday. It is like prayer. If you don”t have a habit of praying every now and then, you don”t know how to pray when you really need it. It is also like going to church. It feels natural to go to church, if you go regularly. But if you have never been to church, you need courage to go even near the place. It is like a foot path in a bush. If it is well trodden, it is easy to find it. But it is not used, soon undergrowth will cover it all up. Today”s Gospel selection is teaching us the importance of being everyday kind of a good person. It tells us that you can not cram for entrance into heaven. Doing good deeds have to become a routine of your life.
In the early church, where these parables were first told, many people were expecting an imminent second coming of Jesus. Atmosphere was highly charged with expectations. In fact, they became fanatics doing many strange things. They believed that Jesus would return very soon. They believed that on that day of coming those who would be saved would be separated from those who would be damned. So many of them believed that their normal lives were no longer important. Some of them stopped working. Some others stopped paying taxes. They got so excited and stopped following a normal pattern of life.
This is why the leaders of the church tried very hard to tell people that the heaven, the kingdom of God, the final judgement day, the second coming of Jesus Christ, or whatever the way it was described, was not distinct from a normal life of a good person. In fact, it would be an everyday life of an ordinary good person that would be celebrated on that day. For one thing, no human could tell when such a special day would come. Paul said that the day would come unexpectedly like a thief at night. So the Apostles told people to be prepared for it all the time. They told the Christians, to live a normal life as a good person everyday. The life of a Christian should be like a walking with Jesus everyday. In fact, according to this way of thinking, everyday is the day of coming, and every person you meet is Jesus Christ.
The leaders of the church also tried to tell people that for God time was very different from ours. Psalm spoke about God”s time, "a thousand years, for God, is like yesterday, like a flash of a second." You can not guess God”s timing, because it has a different scale from ours. As a story goes, a greedy man was trying to make a deal with God. He asked God, "Is it true that for you one second is like our thousand years?" God said, "Yes, that is true." "Does that mean," he continued, "a million dollars for us is like a penny for you?" God said, "I suppose you could say that." Now he is so excited, "Will you spare me a penny?" God replied, "Why, sure, no problem. Wait a second." If we try to second guess God”s timing, we are in for disappointment. Basically we don”t know God”s time; we don”t know the day of coming. And we won”t know who Jesus is, how he looks like, even if he is with us face to face. So the Bible teaches us that we must live as though everyday is like the final judgement day, and treat everybody as though the person is the Lord Jesus himself.
On the judgement day, Jesus said, anybody who was kind to anybody else, even to criminals will be remembered. Jesus was a criminal also, if you remember how he died. In fact, Jesus was telling us to be an ordinary good person doing normal decent things to anyone whose path we cross. It is normal for any of us to give a cup of water, when we see anyone thirsty. It is normal for us to visit a sick person. There is no big deal. But that”s the moment and the place where we meet God. The other side of the coin is; if we wait for some special moment, neglecting ordinary good deeds, you are neglecting God. Everyday is the day of coming, and every person you meet is Christ.
In the parable of Good Samaritan, there were two persons who did not help a desperately wounded person, and passed him by. One was a priest and the other was a Levite. Priest was a person designated to conduct worship services in the Temple. A Levite belonged to a special class designated to attend the business of the Temple, sort of like our Stewards. They were both the especially chosen people to serve God. They must have had good reasons not to bother with a wounded man on the way from Jericoh. They had more important things to do than wasting time to save a wretched man. They had to serve God. They had to get to a meeting of Stewards. But Jesus said, no, they were wrong. To serve God is to be kind to a person in need who happens to run into to you.
A society that depends on people to be good only on some special day could not function too well. A special day must be a day to highlight or to celebrate our daily life. Mother”s Day is not the only day to be good to mothers. If we don”t think about our mothers after Mother”s Day the rest of the time, we are in a big trouble. If you love your child only on his or her birthday, you have a dysfunctional family. Christmas is not the only time to remember Christ. It is the day to celebrate everyday Christ.
I don”t think that God is asking us to be extraordinary. To give someone a cup of water or to give some clothes, to visit a sick person; those are not particularly heroic deeds that require a exceptional courage. They are normal things which any ordinary person would do. You may not have visited people in prisons, but you have visited lonely persons or troubled people. Those are ordinary good deeds for ordinary people.
God meets us in the ordinary. God is in everybody we meet. But if you make ordinary good deeds a routine of your life, you are already in the kingdom. You don”t need any special day, or any heroic deeds to meet God. If doing good and kindly deeds is your daily routine, you may be in a big surprise to find how brave and heroic, godly and saintly you can be without any special effort. If you walk with Jesus everyday, Christ-like nature will become your second personality.