Closing Out the Books

Matthew 25:31-46
At the final accounting, the king "will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left." - Jesus' parable

My New Year’s resolution this year is to put my business books into better order. The accounting system for Not Perfect Yet Publishing has been rather hit and miss. Next Year it will be on a new accounting software and I promise to keep track of every travel receipt, invoiced workshop, and cash sale. The lectionary has a lesson from the 25th chapter of Matthew for New Year’s weekend to help us balance our spiritual books.

Jesus is teaching about the end of the world, how he will come as king and judge to divide the righteous from the wicked. To those with their ethical books in order, he says:

"...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me..." 

The only way to credit your account is to show compassion to strangers, that is, the people who are unable to pay you back. You tally up losses every time you ignore an opportunity to do good in this world. Later the Apostle Paul warns that many in the church have grown weary of doing good. The ethical ledgers of “born again” Christians look worse than those of pagan bike riders and the doctors who perform abortions. At the end of the New Testament, James the brother of Jesus, and John the Apostle, call into question any religious impulse that doesn’t lead us to be more loving to the human beings that surround us. Being compassionate is more important than having the right theology or a conservative ideology.

Such talk is often dismissed as “works righteousness” and said to be contrary to our protestant principle that we are saved by faith, alone. Yet, if you look at what Jesus is doing in Matthew 25:37-39, when he has the righteous say, “…when did we see you a stranger and invite you [into a caring relationship]?” It is obvious that the righteous don’t have accounting books to track their good deeds. They are unaware of their own daily expenditures of compassion. Faith has made it natural for them to care for those who they disagree with, or who are of a different race, or a different nationality, a different political persuasion, etc. There is no works righteousness for Jesus has restored in these believer’s hearts the truth that love is the main thing.

With this in mind, I should rethink my New Year’s resolution. A change of heart would be more appropriate than a change of accounting system. I pray that my ethics for 2022 will be shaped by three principles:

  1. To always be compassionate — instead of going about my business in a transactional way, where I only help those who can help me, I will give freely to those in need.
  2. To always seek to understand — strangers are only strangers because we choose not to know them.
  3. To never let my selfish ends deter me from doing the good I should do in this moment.
Are you ready to show compassion to a stranger?