Despite what you may have picked up about Christianity from some of our more loud-mouthed brethren, Jesus did not spend his time denouncing gay people, foreigners, or people of other religions. And, believe it or not, he rarely talked about hell. But when he did… Buckle your safety belts, America.
In the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells a story about Judgment Day, when every person is held to account for the outcome of their life. In the typical American Christian cosmology, this is the big moment when God rewards those who said the right prayer and accepted Jesus into their hearts. Everybody who didn’t say that prayer and didn’t believe all the right things? Into the furnace.
But that’s not what we find in Matthew 25. Instead, we learn that when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, he’s going to have a very different set of criteria. It’ll go something like this: When I was hungry and thirsty, did you give me food and drink? When I was a stranger, did you welcome me? When I was naked and sick, did you clothe me and care for me? And when I was in prison, did you visit me?
We’re going to ask him, When did we ever meet you as a stranger and welcome you in? When did we ever see you hungry and thirsty, or naked and sick, or in prison? And Jesus will say, You did see me. I was there with you every time you encountered a person in need. And whatever you did – or didn’t do – to them, that’s exactly what you did to me.
This will be a big revelation for all of us: A nice surprise for those of us who cared for the least of these, and a rude awakening for those who turned away and ignored those in need.
When Jesus judges the world, according to this passage, he won’t care what you think about him. He’s not going to praise or condemn you for your knowledge about God, what church you went to, or how much money you put in the offering plate. When this age is over and each one of us stands before him to give account, the question he will ask us is, Did you care for the stranger? Did you feed my sheep? Did you really love me, showing it in the way you treated those least able to repay you?
What will you say?
At this very moment, there is a debate taking place across the United States. We’re arguing about whether we should welcome refugees from the Syrian Civil War. These are families fleeing for their lives. They’re men, women, and little children clamoring onto boats and risking everything to escape a flood of extremism and violence. They have come to the shores of the Western world, begging for shelter from this terrible storm.
These folks have nothing left. They are hungry and thirsty, naked and sick. They have arrived as strangers at our doorstep, asking us to welcome them into our homes. Do we dare to turn them away? Can we honestly call ourselves followers of Jesus and turn away the least of these, our brothers and sisters who find themselves in such desperation?
If we turn our backs on the Syrian refugees, we reject as irrelevant the claims of Jesus. We deny the truthfulness of the Bible. We renounce the Christian faith altogether.
Let me be clear: You cannot ignore these refugees and be a follower of Jesus in any real sense. To reject the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the weak and despised, is to reject Jesus himself.
The very heart and substance of the Christian faith lies in hospitality to the stranger, accepting the danger that unknown people can represent. Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, has already ruled on the question of the Syrian refugee crisis. All of us who claim to follow him must open our arms wide and embrace our Syrian brothers and sisters – whether they are Christian or Muslim, or atheist for that matter. Let them come. Let each and every one of them find room at the inn.
Our country stands at a moral crossroads. We have a decision to make. Will we be a nation that turns away the very people that Jesus has commanded us to comfort and serve? Will we choose the path of fear and isolation in the face of so much suffering? Will those of us who claim to be Christians choose instead to renounce our faith in exchange for the false security of Fortress America?
Will you throw away your faith and cower in fear?
You don’t have to. There is another way.
Do you hear the call of Jesus to clothe the sick, feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger? Now is our time. Despite the panic and confusion, despite the shrill calls for sealed borders, there is an alternative. Now more than ever, we must welcome the stranger and hold fast to the profession of our faith.
In this time of crisis we have an incredible opportunity to show what true, fearless love looks like. Do you have the courage to embrace it?