Sooner or Later Judgment Must Come – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

There’s an old Johnny Cash song (“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”) that is rooted in today’s Gospel:

You can run on for a long time … Sooner or later God’ll cut you down … Go tell that long tongue liar, Go and tell that midnight rider, Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter, Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.

These verses go directly to the end point (judgment), but there is more to the story. First, there is mercy offered, then patience, and finally judgment.

Many today either dismiss judgment entirely or believe that judgment will result in instant entrance to glory.

Today’s Gospel contains a necessary balance. It speaks of God’s patience and care now but also of the day of reckoning, of judgment. On that day, He will adjudicate our “case”; the decision will be final; there will be no turning back.

Let’s look at this Gospel in two main parts:

The Proclamation of the Problem

The Gospel opens with these lines:

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

What Jesus is saying is that is easy to focus on the sins of others, failing to discern our own need for repentance and mercy. Before God we are all beggars; all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf Romans 3:23). Every one of us is in need of boatloads of grace and mercy. While we may rightly distinguish that there is a difference here on earth between the sanctity of a Mother Theresa and the wretchedness of a Hitler, before God we all fall far short.

Sin surely affects the lives of others and we are not asked to be blind to that. It is important to learn from the example of others, both good and bad; the point is to learn. We miss the point if all we do when we see someone suffer the effects of sin is to say, “My, my, God don’t like ugly!” What about the ugly in us? What about our own sin?

To our all-too-eager question “What about them, Lord?” Jesus replies, “What about you? Work on your own issues and leave their final fate to me. Punishment doesn’t just come to others; if you don’t watch out it will come to you as well.” Just to make sure we get it, the Lord adds, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

In effect, the Lord tells us to get serious about our sin and what it can do to us. The most serious problem in life is not the fact that we die or the manner of our death. The most serious problem we face is not Pilate or any political misfortune; it is not falling towers or any physical threat. It is not financial setback, or suffering, or losing our job, or losing our possessions. The most serious problem we face is our own sin.

We don’t tend to think like this. Instead, we minimize the maximum and maximize the minimum. We get all worked up about lesser things while ignoring greater ones. We are forever worrying about passing things like health and money but paying little attention to the things of eternity and to getting ready to meet God. Let our physical health be threatened and we are instantly on our knees begging God for deliverance, but let our sins pile up and sinful drives be eating at our very soul and we take little notice. We don’t seem to care about being delivered from things that are far more serious than mere cancer.

The Lord says, If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body cast into hell (Matt 5:30). Pay attention, the Lord is saying that it is worse to sin than to lose your right hand!

If I were to lose my right hand, I think I would lament it for the rest of my life. The very thought of it gives me stabbing grief. Why don’t we think of our sin this way? Do you see how obtuse we are, how distorted our priorities?

One day the Lord looked at a paralyzed man and decided to cure his most serious problem. He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Could the man’s sins have been more serious than his paralysis? Yes!

Thus, the Lord warns us that we ought to be more serious about our sins lest we perish, not merely losing our earthly life but our eternal life. The fact that the solution to our problem required the death of the Son of God indicates that we are in far worse shape than we think. Without our repentance and the magnificent mercy of God, something far worse than having a tower fall on us or our enemies kill us might happen. Elsewhere in Scripture the Lord says, I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Lk 12:4-5). The Lord is not counseling a cringing and avoidant fear but rather a respectful fear such that we are serious about judgment and understand that the result on that day will be eternal, unlike the passing quality of any earthly encounter.

Having portrayed the problem and underscored its seriousness, the Lord then reminds us that He is willing to help us, with His grace and mercy, to get ready. He sets forth a process in which we must cooperate, for judgment will surely come.

The Portrayal of the Process

The Lord tells a parable that sets forth the process in which we are currently engaged: a process of patience and mercy that leads to the finality of judgment. Note the following three steps:

1. ASSESSMENT There was once a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard and when he came in search of fruit on it and found none said to the gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this tree and have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?”

Faith is a fruit-bearing tree. It is to bear the fruits of love, justice, and the keeping of the commandments. The Lord looks for these fruits and often, through our conscience and by His Word, assesses whether they are present.

Many claim to have faith, to be fruitful in what the Lord seeks, but it is He, as owner of the field, who sets the terms. We are not the judge in our own case. It is the Lord’s ongoing work to assess our progress and fruitfulness. He determines whether the necessary fruits are present.

Today, many people claim the right to assess their own status. They make bold proclamations that God would not “dare” to find them to be lacking in anything substantial. In presumption, many declare themselves to be safe, fruitful, and righteous.

This is not for us to say, however. In the parable it is the owner, the Lord, who makes the assessment; and note that in this parable He proposes that something significant is lacking.

Yet some interlocutor, here called the gardener but let’s call her the Church, asks for mercy and time. As we shall see, such mercy and time is granted, along with necessary supplies (grace) to help accomplish what is sought: the fruit of faith.

2. ASSISTANCE The text goes on to describe the prayers and requests of the gardener (in this case, Mother Church): Sir leave it for this year also. I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it. It may bear fruit in the future.

The Lord, the owner of the garden, not only grants the request but will also be the one to supply the necessary help to draw forth the fruits patiently awaited.

Indeed, the Lord sends us help and graces in so many ways:.

      • He speaks in our conscience.
      • He has written His law in our heart.
      • He gave us the law.
      • He sent us prophets.
      • He punishes our wrongdoings in order to bring us to repentance.

* Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I have kept your word (Ps 119:67).
* But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:10).

      • He sent us His Son, who established the Church and gave us grace and the sacraments.
      • He gave us grace and the sacraments.
      • It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [That we be] no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ (Eph 4: 11-17).

Do you see how much God has done for us? He has graced us in every way. He has entrusted to the Church, in answer to her pleas, every necessary grace to bear fruit. Now He patiently waits. He looks to return again to seek the fruits that are necessary for those who claim to have saving faith, fruits that are necessary to be able to endure the day of His coming, fruits that are necessary for us to have the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Indeed, we cannot see or endure His presence without the fruit of holiness by His grace, for as Scripture says, Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or Who may stand in his holy place? Only he who has clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:3-4). Only God can accomplish this, but He who made us without us will not save us without us. Thus, we must, by His grace, renounce our sin and accept His grace.

3. ACCEPTANCE – The parable ends very simply with this line: If not you can cut it down.

I’ve chosen the word “acceptance” carefully. Judgment is not so much God’s decision as it His acceptance of our decision to bear fruit or to refuse to do so; to accept or refuse His offer of the fruits of faith such as chastity, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, love of the poor, and appreciation of the truth.

On the day of judgment God accepts our final choice. It is not so much the passing of a sentence as it is the final recognition of the absolute choice that we have made. At this point it is no longer possible for us to change; what we are remains forever fixed.

As we get older it is harder and harder to change. We are like concrete that sets over time; like pottery, which begins moist and malleable, but whose shape is fixed when subjected to the fire.

Thus, the Lord teaches us to be serious about sin and about judgment. For now, there is mercy and every grace available to us, but there will come a day when our decision will be accepted and forever fixed.

The Gospel today teaches beautifully of God’s patience but also of our need for mercy. It warns us that the decision we make by the way we live our life will finally be accepted. Yes, there is a day of judgment closing in on each of us.

Pointing out how often we sang “Kumbaya, My Lord” will not suffice.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul warns us against presumption and trying to serve as judge in our own case:

Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall (1 Cor 10:1:ff).

For now, there is mercy, but there will come a day of ratification, of judgment; a day when the question will be asked and the final answer supplied, not so much by God as by us.

Your flesh says, “No worries,” but the Lord says, “Repent!”

Here are more of the lyrics from the Johnny Cash song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”:

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light.

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Sooner or Later Judgment Must Come – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

You Now Have Five Seconds to Comply – Judgment in a Commercial

The video below is from a recent series of KFC commercials featuring the iconic Colonel Sanders as Colonel RoboCop. The commercial humorously demonstrates how a countdown or deadline can motivate people. As a writer, I frequently face deadlines and I know they certainly spur me get things done! With April 15th looming, most in the U.S. are increasingly motivated (if that’s the right word in this instance) to get their taxes finished.

However, all of these are earthly deadlines. Sadly, one of the most fundamental deadlines facing all of us is among the most ignored. It is a deadline in the most literal sense of the word: each of us will die one day. With few exceptions, the exact moment and manner of our death is unknown to us and outside our control.

What are we doing to get ready to meet God? Because we don’t know when we will die, it is easy to push it to the back of our mind—but it is an ever-present deadline, a possibility at every moment. Like a person with a life-threatening allergy who must always keep an emergency injection pen with him, each of us needs to stay in God’s grace at all times, for we know neither the day nor the hour (Mat 25:13).

In the commercial, the family is engrossed in a movie (featuring RoboCop, naturally). They ignore the intrusion by Colonel RoboCop until he begins counting down to zero. Don’t let this be a picture of your life with God, because you won’t get a countdown. Repent while it is still today; tomorrow is not promised.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: You Now Have Five Seconds to Comply – Judgment in a Commercial

Creation, Too, “Longs” for the Healing That Christ Will Bring

In the first reading for Tuesday of the first week of Advent is expressed the implicit longing of all creation for healing. Isaiah tells us of the healing that will one day come to creation when prey lie down in peace with their predators:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Hence, when Christ from His judgment seat shall finally say, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5), and when with John we see “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev 21:1), I have little doubt that animals will share in that recreated and renewed kingdom where death shall be no more (Rev 21:4).

In this passage, St. Paul goes so far as to “personify” creation:

For indeed, creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).

Yes, creation itself eagerly awaits the day when God will say (in the words of an old spiritual), “Oh, Preacher, fold your Bible, for the last soul’s converted!” Then creation itself will be set free from its bondage to death and decay and will be gloriously remade into its original harmony and the life-possessing glory that was once paradise.

Maybe now, through the mystery of our interaction with our pets, God is giving us a glimpse of the harmony we will one day enjoy with all creation. Perhaps our pets are ambassadors for the rest of creation, a kind of early delegation sent by God to prepare the way and begin to forge the connections of the new and restored creation. Maybe they are urging us on in our task of making the number of the elect complete so that all creation can sooner receive its renewal and be restored to the glory and harmony it once had. Who knows? But I see a kind of urgency in the pets I have had over the years. They are filled with joy, enthusiasm, and the expectation of something great.

They show joyful expectation! Yes, there was a kind of joyful expectation in the dogs of my youth: running in circles around me, dashing to greet me when I arrived home, and jumping for joy when I announced a car ride or a walk. My cats have always sauntered over to meet me at the door with a meow, an arched back, and a rub up against my leg. Somehow our pets manifest the passage above: creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19).

While I realize that we humans often project what we want their behavior to mean, I am still fascinated by the way our pets come to “know” us and set up a kind of communication with us.

Dogs, especially, are very demonstrative, interactive, and able to make knowing responses. Cats are more subtle. My cat, Jewel, knows my patterns. She also knows how to communicate to me that she wants water, food, or just a back rub. She’s a big talker, too, meowing each time I enter the room. Sometimes I wish she could just tell me what she wanted!

Yes, this interaction with our pets is indeed mysterious. I am not suggesting that animals are on a par with humans intellectually or morally; Scripture is unambiguous that animals are given to us by God and that we are sovereign stewards over them. However, animals—especially our pets—are to be appreciated as gifts from Him. Scripture is also clear that animals will be part of the renewed creation that God will bring about when Christ comes again in glory.

They are part of the Kingdom! Without elevating pets (no matter how precious to us) to the full dignity of human beings, it is not wrong to think that they will be part of the Kingdom of God in all its restored harmony and beauty.

One day when Christ comes again, creation, now yearning, will receive the healing for which it longs.

The first song in this video, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” takes some of its lyrics from earlier verses in Isaiah Chapter 11, from which we read this day.

Is Christ Really Your King? A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

On the feast of Christ the King, we are called to acknowledge that Jesus is in fact our King. It is one thing to say that He is our King because the song in Church says so, or the preacher says so, or the Bible says so (yes, faith does come by hearing), but it is quite another for us to personally say that Jesus is our King.

There comes a time when we must personally affirm what the Church has always announced: “Jesus is Lord, and He is King. He is my King. He has authority in my life.” This must become more than just lip service; it must become a daily, increasing reality in our life.

Kings take care of us, but they also have the authority to command us. Do we allow Christ to command us or are we more like the typical modern person who doesn’t like to be told what to do? Perhaps we suffer from the milder form of this attitude in which we reduce Jesus to a “harmless hippie” who just says pleasant things but would never rebuke us or insist upon our repentance.

Again, consider this question: “Is Jesus Christ your King?”

That brings us to Sunday’s Gospel. The Gospels aren’t theater; we’re not in the audience watching an ancient story unfold. No, we are in the story. We are not supposed to just sit back and observe what Peter, or Pontius Pilate, or James, or Mary Magdalene does. They are we and we are they.

This means that when Jesus asks one of them a question, we cannot merely wait to see how he or she will answer. No, we have to answer the question.

In the Gospel the spotlight is on Pontius Pilate. The Lord asks the critical question of him. We cannot simply wait to see how he answers; we have to answer. Let’s consider this Gospel in three stages.

I. INDECISION – In a remarkable display of literary artistry, John and the Holy Spirit vividly depict the vacillation of Pontius Pilate. In this Gospel passage of the trial of Jesus, Pilate goes in and out of the praetorium (the governor’s palace) more than a bellhop through the revolving door of a hotel! Indeed, he goes in and out seven times. Here is the text, with the portions describing his motions highlighted in bold:

So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” . . . Pilate [re]entered the praetorium and called Jesus . . .  he went out to the Jews again, and told them, “I find no crime in him” . . . Then Pilate took Jesus [back into the praetorium] and scourged him. . . . Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.” . . . When Pilate heard [the crowd], he was the more afraid; he re-entered the praetorium and [spoke] to Jesus . . . Upon this Pilate [went back out] and sought to release him, but the Jews cried out . . . When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and he sat down on the judgment seat (John 18-19 selected verses).

Did you count them? Seven times Pilate goes into or out of the praetorium! Such a picture of indecision and vacillation! He’s trying to please the crowds. He’s trying to please his wife (who had warned him to have nothing to do with that innocent man (Mat 27:19)). He’s trying to help Jesus. He can’t decide, so in and out he goes!

Pilate is just like us. We say that we love God, but we also love the world. We want to please others and we want to please God, but we cannot do both. We have to decide, but instead we vacillate; we are Pilate. We are often locked in indecision, trying to please the world and God.

Are we really so different from Pilate? Faced with a crucial decision, Pilate weighs the consequences that choosing Jesus will have on his career, his family, his loyalty to country and Caesar, and his access to power. While we may rightly criticize Pilate for his choice, don’t we make compromises with the world for the sake of similar things? How often does Jesus our King take a back seat to career, politics, convenience, and so forth? So easily do we stay rooted in vacillation, compromise, and indecision.

II. INQUIRY – In the midst of all this indecision, comes the question.

Pilate begins with his own question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) Although it is Jesus who is on trial, He turns the tables on Pilate. Jesus effectively puts Pilate on trial by asking him a crucial question: Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” (John 18:34).

It’s a remarkable question! Guess what … You have to answer it. Each of us has to answer it. Don’t wait for Pilate; he already gave his answer and faced judgment long ago. How do we answer it?

Notice what the Lord is getting at with his question. He is asking us if we call him a King merely because we’ve heard others say it or because we personally know him to be a King. Is he really our King, or this just a slogan we’ve heard in church before? Do we believe that He is King or do we merely parrot what we’ve heard others say?

There is an old gospel song that says, “Yes, I know Jesus for myself.” Is that really the case with us? Too many of us are satisfied with a kind of inferential faith. Inferential faith is based merely on what others have said: we think or suppose that Jesus is Lord because our parents said so, or our pastor said so. This is a good beginning, for after all, faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), but there comes a moment when we have to say so. It is not enough that our parents say so or our pastor says so. Thus, Jesus is asking us right now, Are you saying [I am King] on your own or merely because others have said so?

Answer Him! It’s a crucial question, isn’t it? The faith of the Church is essential, normative, and determinative, but at some point we have to step up and say that we personally affirm that the faith of the Church is true and is ours, and then declare, “Jesus is Lord and King.”

What does it mean that Jesus is King? A king has authority, doesn’t he? Does Jesus have authority in our life? Do we have the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5) and base our life upon His will?

A king also takes care of his people and protects them. Do we allow the Lord to feed us with the Holy Eucharist? Do we allow Him to protect us from the poison of sin by the Sacrament of Confession and the medicine of His Holy Word? Are we willing to live within the protection of the walled city of His Church?

Is the Lord really our King? How do we answer? Is it just a slogan or is His Kingship real? Let the Lord ask one more time, Are you saying [I am King] on your own or have others been telling you about me?

III. IMPLICATION – We must answer. To refuse to answer is to answer.

A fascinating and wondrous literary device is used by John and the Holy Spirit in this Gospel passage. We have already seen how Jesus, who was Himself on trial, has turned the tables and effectively put Pilate on trial. Pilate, who has the duty to question Jesus, is now being questioned by Him. It is Pilate who must now make a decision, not so much about Jesus, but about himself. He has been asked a question that he cannot ultimately avoid, and now it is time to answer. Here is where the ingenious literary device comes into play. Look carefully at this passage from John’s Gospel and see if you notice anything strange about it.

Upon [the shouting of “Crucify him!”] Pilate sought to release Jesus, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and he sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha (John 19:12-13).

What is strange here? Well, notice that when Pilate has Jesus brought out, it says that “he” sat down on the judgment seat. Who exactly is sitting on the judgment seat? One might think, Pilate, of course! Historically, that might be true, but the text is ambiguous as to exactly who “he” is. Most Scripture scholars argue that the line is supposed to be ambiguous.

From the standpoint of historical facts, it was likely Pilate who took that seat, but from the standpoint of divine justice, it is Jesus who takes it.

Jesus has turned the tables on Pilate. Pilate is now on trial and the verdict is about to be revealed. Pilate seals his own fate when he hands Jesus over to be crucified; his vacillation is over. Pilate has made his choice; he has answered the question.

In this context it is Jesus who sits silently upon the judgment seat. The verdict is in. In deciding to hand Jesus over, in deciding to favor himself and the crowds over Jesus, Pilate has brought judgment on himself.

Too many of us have cartoonish notions about our final judgment: a benign Jesus giving us a great big hug, or an angry one gleefully passing judgment on His “enemies.” Perhaps there is also some notion of a review of our deeds, both good and bad, and then the pronouncing of some sort of verdict while we cringe and wait. Jesus is not a King who imposes His Kingdom. He invites us to enter into His Kingdom. Ultimately, judgment is about our choice, not His.

Judgment is finally this: The Lord, who suffered for us, quietly and respectfully sits on the judgment seat and accepts our final choice, a choice that is the accumulation all the choices we made in life, a choice that is now and forever fixed. Isn’t that what really happens?

The Lord has asked the question of Pilate, as he does of us. The choice is for Pilate to make and the judgment is one he brings on himself. His choice is either to accept the Lord’s Kingship or to reject it and watch Jesus led away while he (Pilate himself) stands alone, the judgment having been rendered by virtue of his own choice.

Yes, there are implications to whether we accept the Lord as our King or not. Today, the Lord asks us all if we will let Him be our King. To those of us who say yes, the Lord has this further question: “Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” Is He really our King? Think hard about it. There are implications.

The question that we must answer has now been answered by Pilate. What is your answer?

Sober but Serene Themes of Judgment in the Spirituals

Julia Eckel, Smithsonian American Art Museum

I’ve often been impressed by the ability of old African-American spirituals to treat serious subjects in a clear, memorable, and almost joyful way. This is true even of weighty matters like sin and judgment. During early November we are focused on the four last things (death, judgment, Heaven, and hell) and November is also Black Catholic History Month. So, this seems like a good time to look at some of the creative lines from different spirituals that articulate these topics.

It can be very helpful to the preacher, teacher, and parent in recovering an ethos of coming judgment, but in a way that is almost playfully bright while at the same time deeply soulful.

In a certain sense, the spirituals are unimpeachable, even by hypersensitive post-moderns who seek to shame preachers for announcing sterner biblical themes. Most of the spirituals were written by slaves, who creatively worked biblical themes into these songs that helped accompany both their work and their worship.

The spirituals were written in the cauldron of great suffering. If any people might be excused from thinking that the Lord would exempt them from judgment day, it was surely the enslaved in the deep South. If any people might be excused from crying out for vengeance, it was they. Yet the spirituals are almost entirely devoid of condemning language; enslaved blacks sang in ways that looked also to their own sins and the need to be prepared. If they were prepared, God, who knew their trouble, would help them steal away to Jesus. They did not see themselves as exempt from the need to be ready.

If they, who worked hard in the cotton fields and endured the horrors of slavery, thought these texts applied to them, how much more do they apply to us, who recline on our couches and speak of our freedom to do as we please?

Here are some lines from a few of the many spirituals that speak to judgment and the last things:

  • I would not be a sinner, I’ll tell you the reason why. I’m afraid my Lord might call my name and I wouldn’t be ready to die.
  • Some go to Church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out!
  • Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t a goin’ there, Oh my Lord!
  • Where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds? Oh where shall I be when it sounds so loud, when it sounds so loud as to wake up the dead? Oh where shall I be when it sounds? How will it be with my poor soul, Oh where shall I be?
  • Better watch my brother how you walk on the cross! Your foot might slip and your soul get lost!
  • God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but the fire next time!
  • Old Satan wears a hypocrite’s shoe, If you don’t watch he’ll slip it on you!
  • Noah, Noah let me come in!
    The doors are fastened and the windows pinned! fastened an’ de winders pinned
    Noah said, “Ya lost your track
    Can’t plow straight! you keep a-lookin’ back!
  • Knock at the window knock at the door
    Callin’ brother Noah
    Can’t you take more?
    No said Noah cause you’re full of sin!
    God has the key you can’t get in!
  • Well I went to the rock to hide my face
    The rock cried out, no hiding place
    There’s no hiding place down here
    Oh the rock cried I’m burnin’ too!
    I wanna go to heaven just as much as you!
  • Oh sinner man better repent!
    Oh you’d better repent
    for God’s gonna call you to judgment
    There’s no hiding place down there!
  • No signal for another train
    To follow in this line
    Oh sinner you’re forever lost
    When once you’re left behind.
    She’s nearing now the station
    Oh, sinner don’t be vain
    But come and get your ticket
    Be ready for that train!
  • Sinner please don’t let this harvest pass
    And die and lose your soul at last.
  • My Lord, what a morning
    When the stars begin to fall

    You’ll hear the trumpet sound, to wake the nations underground
    Looking to my God’s right hand,
    When the stars begin to fall
    You’ll hear the sinner moan,
    When the stars begin to fall

    You’ll hear the Christian shout,
    Oh, when the stars begin to fall!

Most of these songs are deeply scriptural and make serious appeals to the human soul, but they do so in a way that is creative. They get you tapping your foot and invite you to a joyful consideration of the need to repent before it’s too late. Others are more soulful, even mournful, in their pentatonic scale.

Given all the reluctance to discuss the four last things (death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell), songs like these may help to reopen the door to necessary conversations between preacher and congregation, parents and children. They are a valuable resource.

I’d like to conclude with a creative spiritual about the last judgment. Note that it is rich in biblical references. It is joyful—a real toe-tapper—and makes a serious point along with a wish.

In That Great Getting’ Up Mornin’ Fare You Well

I’m gonna tell ya ’bout da comin’ of da judgment
Dere’s a better day a comin’,
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Chorus:
In dat great gettin’ up mornin’,
Fare thee well, fare thee well
In dat great gettin’ up mornin’,
Fare thee well, fare thee well

Oh preacher fold yo’ bible,
For dat last souls converted,
Fare thee well, fare thee well

Blow yo’ trumpet Gabriel,
Lord, how loud shall I blow it?
Blow it right and calm and easy,

Do not alarm all my people,
Tell dem all come to da judgment,
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Do you see dem coffins burstin’,
do you see dem folks is risin’
Do you see dat fork of lightnin’,
Do you hear dat rumblin’ thunder?
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Do you see dem stars a fallin’,
Do you see da world on fire?
Fare thee well, fare thee well

Do you see dem Saints is risin’,
Fare thee well, fare thee well
See ’em marchin’ home for heaven,
Fare thee well, fare thee well

Oh! Fare thee well poor sinners, fare thee well, fare thee well
Fare thee well poor sinners, fare thee well, fare thee well!

Here are renditions of a few other spirituals:

How to Influence the Way the Lord Will Judge Us

This is the seventh in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Works of Mercy, Pieter Bruegel

In the past several posts, we have been considering the judgment that awaits us. Not only must we be ready in the ways we have described, but should allow our looming judgment to help our attitude today.

Scripture says, Always speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the Law that gives freedom. For judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful (James 2:12-13). Herein lies a way that we can influence the standard by which the Lord will judge us.

The key teaching from the Lord here is this: the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:38). This statement comes at the end of a long discourse in which the Lord summons us to be generous, forgiving, merciful, patient, and reluctant to condemn others severely.

Consider this a kind of “mathematics” of the Kingdom of God.

In effect, the Lord says, “Do the math. Realize that if you are merciful, you will be judged with mercy, but if you are harsh and critical, you will be judged by a harsh and critical standard. If you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven.”

Like it or not, this is the mathematics of the Kingdom of God. It does not mean that we earn salvation, but it does mean that we have a lot of influence over the standard by which we will be judged.

So, if you are going to need mercy and grace on that day (and we all are), it is good to do the math of the Kingdom and store up mercy and grace for that day.

One day, we will all answer to God. That day, as Scripture repeatedly teaches, is a day about which we should be sober. Sadly, there are many who give little thought to this truth and some who outright scoff at it.

Remarkably, we can influence the manner in which God will judge us, the standard he will use. Here we speak of the manner of God’s judgment. That is, whether He will be strict or merciful. We do not refer to the content. It is an obvious and axiomatic truth that God will judge our deeds. Hence, we should avoid wickedness and grave sins, and repent quickly when we commit such sins.

On the one hand, it would seem that we could have no influence at all on the manner in which we will be judged, for it would seem that God is no respecter of persons, and judges with perfect justice.

On the other hand, there are passages in Scripture that do speak of ways that we can influence the standard God will use, the manner of His judgment. Let’s look at four areas in which we can have influence and consider a few biblical passages.

Whether we show mercy to others

Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). James says something similar and develops it a bit when he says, Always speak and act as those were going to be judged under the law of freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. So mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12-13). Thus we are taught that by observing mercy and patience in our relations with one another, we will influence the manner in which we are judged.

Sometimes in life, particularly if we are leaders or parents, we will need to punish and/or assign consequences to those who transgress moral laws or legal limits. Passages like these do not mean that we should never accompany correction with punitive measures. Such a way of living would be unwise and could confirm people in bad behavior. Even when punitive measures are needed, though, it makes sense to be lenient when possible and to attempt less measures before firmer ones are employed.

It is also clear from these biblical texts that it is highly foolish to go through life with severity toward others, with a lack of compassion or a harsh and unyielding attitude. We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy at our judgment. Therefore, how misguided, how foolish it would be for us to be harsh and unmerciful toward others! For indeed, these text tell us that the merciful will be blessed and the unmerciful will be shown no mercy. Can you or I really expect that we will make it on the day of judgment without boatloads of mercy?

Now, therefore, is the time for us to seek to invoke the promise of the Lord: Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

Whether we are strict or lenient with others

In a related text, the Lord Jesus says, The measure that you measure to others, will be measured back to you (Mark 4:24). If we hope for and need a merciful judgment, if we want a merciful measure or standard to be used, then we must do the same for others. The Lord makes it clear that He will use the measure or standard that we have used for others when He judges us. Have we been strict? If so, then He will be strict with us. Have we been merciful? If so, then He will be merciful to us. Be very careful before demanding that sinners and others who transgress receive the strongest penalties. There may be a time for such penalties, but it is not necessary that the most severe punishments always be used.

In John chapter 8, the Pharisees wanted to exact the most severe penalty (stoning) on a woman caught in adultery. Jesus reasons with them, telling them that before they demand that He “throw the book at her,” they might want to recall that there are a few things about them that are also written in the book. One by one they drift away, seemingly after considering the foolishness of their demands for the most severe penalty. They finally realize that the measure they want to measure out to her will in turn be measured back to them.

Whether we are generous to the poor

Luke relates the following text more specifically to our generosity: Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38). This leads us to a second area in which the Scriptures teach us that we can influence the day of our judgment.

After rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees for their severity and extreme legalism, Jesus says to them (who were obsessing about cleaning the outside of the dish), You fools, did not the one who made the outside of the cup make the inside also? But if you give what is inside the cup as alms to the poor, everything will be made clean for you (Luke 11:40-41). In the light of the theology of grace, this is a daring text. It almost implies that we can somehow “purchase” forgiveness. But of course it is the Lord Himself who says it, and He does not say that we can somehow purchase forgiveness. Surely, though, He does teach that generosity to the poor will in fact influence the day of our judgment.

Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus develops the thought, saying, I tell you, use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Lk 16:9). It is a complicated text, but Jesus seems to be saying that our generosity to the poor will surely gain advantages for us at the day of our judgment. Indeed, blessing the poor gives us powerful intercessors, for the Lord hears the cries of the poor. The picture painted here is of those poor welcoming us into our eternal dwellings.

Scripture elsewhere warns, If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be heard (Proverbs 21:13). Once again, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner, measure, or standard that will be used by God at our judgment. To the merciful, mercy will be shown. The generous will experience that their cries are heard, for they heard the cries of the poor. The Lord more than implies that those who have been generous to the poor will have powerful advocates praying and interceding for them on the day of judgment. Indeed, a number of the Fathers of the Church remind us that in this life the poor need us, but in the life to come we will need them.

Whether we forgive others

A final area to explore in terms of how we might have influence over the manner of our judgment is in the matter of forgiveness. Just after giving us the Our Father, the Lord Jesus says, For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14 – 15).

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the terrifying parable of a man who had huge debt that was forgiven him by his master. When the man then refused to forgive his brother a much smaller debt, the master grew angry and threw him into debtors’ prison. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).

So yes, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner in which God will judge us, the standard He will use. While it is true that God will judge us by our deeds (cf Romans 2:6), the manner in which He judges us, whether with strictness or leniency, does seem to be a matter over which we have influence.

We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy, for if God judges with strict justice and strict standards, who can stand? We will all have much to answer for. All the more reason for us to follow the teachings of the Lord in His Scripture, so that we can be sure that on the day of our judgment, mercy and the grace of leniency will prevail in abundance. Do we want mercy? Then we must show mercy. Do we want a gentle standard? Then we must measure out gentleness. Do we want forgiveness? Then we must offer forgiveness. Recruit some intercessors for the day of judgment by giving to the poor. They will be the most powerful intercessors for us as we leave this life and go to our judgment.

Indeed, God has shown us how we can store up a treasure of mercy, waiting for us in Heaven at the judgment seat of Christ. There are some good lessons here to heed.

In the next article in this series, we will turn our attention to Heaven, another of the Four Last Things.

Here’s an amusing video illustrating that the measure we measure out to others will be measured back to us:

Preparing for Judgment

This is the sixth in a series on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

In the past two articles we have recalled the reality of the judgment that is upon us when we die and we have surveyed the parables in which Jesus urgently warns us of it. In this post we consider something of a plan to prepare for judgment.

You are going to die and you don’t get to say when. This should inspire a sober, urgent, and daily preparation for death and judgment. Yet too many people today are not serious about their spiritual walk. They’re running around as if life is just some big game. They’re not thinking about appearing before the judgment seat. They’re not praying. They’re not reading Scripture. They’re not growing in their faith. They’re are not going to Mass on Sundays. Many of them are stubbornly locked in very serious and unrepentant mortal sin. They are not going to be ready. To them, the message must be turn to Jesus. Repent. Give Him your life.

Obviously, the main point is to live a life of faith and, through ongoing conversion, to permit the Lord to do what is necessary to prepare us. The following description of the Christian life appears in Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Four things follow: that we should pray, be obedient to the Scriptures, faithfully and worthily receive the sacraments, and stay united to the Body of Christ, the Church. To this must be added ongoing repentance and the will to allow the Lord to free us from the grip of sin. Consider the following reflection and four-point plan of preparation:

Rest – Prayer is resting in the Lord. Prayer as rest is a great “power-nap,” so pray every day. Some folks tell me that it’s hard to pray or that they don’t know how to pray. Well, do you know what you’re doing when you say that? You’re already praying! Don’t tell me; tell God. If that’s where you’ve got to begin with your prayer, say to Him: “Lord, I don’t like to pray. I struggle to pray. Prayer is boring.” Tell Him whatever you need to tell Him. Prayer isn’t reading words that somebody else wrote that you don’t mean. Prayer is talking to the Lord and telling Him what’s going on in your life. At its heart, prayer is paying attention to God.

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, that calls me from a world of care. And bids me at my Father’s throne, make all my wants and wishes known. In seasons of distress and grief, My soul has often found relief, And oft escaped the tempter’s snare, By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Read – Read Scripture and only holy writings – We simply must read Scripture every day and study the teachings of the Church. Our minds will be polluted if we don’t cleanse them every day with God’s Word and the teachings of the Faith. Some people say that it’s hard to understand Scripture, but there are so many aids available: “My Daily Bread,” “The Word Among Us,” “Magnificat,” study bibles. Some folks even get the Word sent to their cell phones each day along with some commentary. Somehow, some way, get with God’s Word every day. We seem to find time for everything else; find some time for God’s Word.

The Word of God helps us to think more as God does, not as the world does. Our priorities improve and we begin to win the fight in the chief battleground: our mind. Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. It all begins in the mind. As Scripture itself says, we must be transformed by the renewal of our mind (see Romans 12:2). If you’re not winning the battle in your mind, you’re going backward and the abyss is approaching. Study Scripture. Be devoted to learning your faith.

Rehearse – Go to Mass every Sunday. Mass attendance and Church membership are essential for salvation. In the first place, God is worthy of our praise and adoration. To fail in our Sunday obligation displays an egregious lack of gratitude.

We also need to come to God’s house so that we can be instructed and then fed with the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Jesus says, If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53). Some people say, “Oh, I watch the Mass on TV.” You can’t get Holy Communion through the television! People who don’t go to Mass are starving themselves spiritually and will not have strength for the journey.

If you don’t attend in person, you can’t get real fellowship. Fellowship is about more than coffee and doughnuts; it’s about mutual support and accountability; it’s about the love we are commanded to have for one another.

Go to Mass every Sunday. Receive Communion every Sunday, provided that you are in a state of grace.

Some say, “God doesn’t care if I go to Mass or not.” Yes, He does. He put it right in the Ten Commandments: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” We fulfill this each Sunday. When God puts something in the Ten Commandments, He is serious. Don’t mess around with the Ten Commandments. Missing Mass without a serious reason is a mortal sin.

Mass is the dress rehearsal for Heaven; it’s our training ground for what awaits. If you don’t even want to show up for the dress rehearsal, why should God trust you with the real thing? The fact is we are simply not able to endure the real Heaven unless we are well-rehearsed in its truths and purified by the sacraments.

RepentIf you are aware of any serious or unrepented mortal sin in your life, repent now and call on the Lord’s mercy. Go to confession; go frequently. Some folks tell me, “I’m in such a mess that I don’t know how to get out of it.” Go to the Lord and talk to Him about it. Say, “Help me, Lord!” But please, do not go on calling “good” or “no big deal” what God calls sin! The Lord says, No one who calls on me will I ever reject (Jn 6:37).

Upon hearing the call to repent, too many people today say, “I will not be told what to do. I will not be told what is right and wrong.” Be careful! The one thing that God can’t save us from is that kind of pride, because with it we don’t want to be forgiven. And so again I say to all of us: Repent—and be urgent about it.

No one loves you more than does Jesus Christ, and yet no one warned about judgment and Hell more than He did. Many people today are dismissive of judgment and Hell. They say, “Jesus would never do that.” But Jesus told us over and over again that there will be a judgment, and it’s not so much about what He decides but what we decide through the way we live our life. Jesus says this: Here is the judgment in question, that the Light has come into the world, but many prefer the darkness, because their deeds are sinful (Jn 3:18).

So there is a judgment coming. The Lord warns us in parable after parable. I simply ask you to be ready. In a future post we will talk more about Hell and why it exists. For now, though simply listen to what the Lord is saying. He teaches of a day of judgment, of the reality that “many” go to Hell, and of the need to call upon Him before our hearts are forever lost in pride and sin.

Tomorrow we will consider one final thing about judgment: the wonderful thought that we can have an influence on the standard with which the Lord will judge us.

Parables by Jesus on the Day of Judgment and on Our Need to be Ready

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

credit: Ashland CTC

Jesus was urgent in warning us to be ready for judgment. He did this in many ways, but most notably in the parables. In this post let’s ponder His teachings and hear His urgency.

Most casual readers of the Bible tend to view the parables as merely interesting, entertaining stories. While that is so, they are deadly serious as well; they powerfully portray the drama of human life, the need to make decisions, and the consequences of those decisions. The parables carry weighty messages and substantial warnings. Do not misconstrue their creative, pithy, memorable qualities as signs of superficial teaching.

Some of Jesus’ starkest warnings come in the form of parables. In them, the drama of human life in the valley of decision (Joel 3:14) is vividly proclaimed. Indeed, the parables are mostly about the drama and decisions of human life and the stance we take in the cosmic battle that rages around us. Our decisions point to our destiny. Of Jesus’ 37 parables, 20 are ones that remind us that our decisions can bring blessing or curse, rise or ruin, salvation or condemnation. Let’s review some of them, in order of increasing intensity:

  1. The rich fool (Luke 12:16–21): This is a parable of a rich man who hoards the surplus yielded by a bountiful harvest rather than being generous with it. God calls him a fool and claims his life that very night. In this parable Jesus warns us of the foolishness of living for passing, worldly things, cautioning that total loss is coming for those who are not rich in what matters to God.
  2. The wise and the foolish builders (Matthew 7:24–7; Luke 6:46–49): This is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount; in it the Lord describes the dramatic difference between those who follow His teachings and those who do not. Those who heed His Word are like those who build their houses on solid rock and are thus able to endure the storms that come. But the foolish, who do not heed His Word, are like those who build their houses on sand. For them, the result is total loss and destruction when the storm of judgment comes.
  3. The sower (Matthew 13:3–9; Mark 4:3–9; Luke 8:5–8): Though God sows the seed of His Word abundantly, some of it falls on the path, where it is consumed by birds. Other seed falls among thorns, which choke it off. Still other seed falls on rocky soil and withers due to the lack of roots. This is a dramatic warning to those who harden their hearts to God’s Word or who allow the soil of their heart to be thinned or choked off by the world. The warning is this: you will not bear the necessary fruit. Some seed, however, does fall on rich soil and it yields an abundant harvest. There is a dramatic difference in the results and it is rooted in the disposition of our hearts.
  4. The wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30): God’s field of wheat is threatened by the weeds of Satan. (This is a dramatic description of the two armies in this world.) Angry field hands propose pulling up the weeds, but the owner cautions that doing so might harm the wheat. He instructs them to allow the wheat and weeds to grow together until the harvest. There is a harvest, at which time the wheat will be gathered in but the weeds will be thrown into the fire. So there is a day of judgment, though not yet. Although the drama must still unfold, the final verdict will ultimately be rendered.
  5. The barren fig tree (Luke 13:6–9): This is a parable about patience. In it, extra time is given to an unfruitful fig tree, but the day of judgment is set. If fruit is not found on the tree on that day, it will be cut down. This is the drama of our life: if we do not manifest the fruit of righteousness we will be removed from the Lord’s field.
  6. The dragnet (Matthew 13:47 –50): The kingdom of God (the Church) is compared to a dragnet, which captures all sorts of things. The drama unfolds when the net is hauled ashore and there comes the judgment. Only what is good is retained; that which is unclean and worthless is cast aside.
  7. The counting of the cost (Luke 14:28–33): In this parable, Jesus warns that discipleship is costly; some are not able or willing to finish once started. He uses the images of a building begun without the resources necessary to finish it and of a king going to war knowing that he is greatly outnumbered. Similarly, some will set off to be disciples but later realize that they do not have the resources or willingness to continue. Thus the Lord sets forth in this parable that discipleship is costly and that the warfare is real. The implication is that some are willing to accept the cost while others are not. The road to salvation is narrow and few find it. The narrow way is the way of the cross. Many turn back from it, preferring the wide road that ultimately leads to destruction.
  8. The unforgiving servant (Matt 18:23-35): A man who owes a huge debt to the king has it forgiven, but then refuses to forgive the much smaller debt of a fellow servant. The king then calls the man back and applies the same unforgiving standard to him that he used on his confrere. Thus the measure we measure out to others will be measured back to us. Merciless is the judgment on one who has shown no mercy. Further, if we do not forgive the sins of others, neither will we find forgiveness from the Father. The choice to forgive and show mercy is a dramatic and crucial decision for us, one that will affect our final judgment in a powerful way.
  9. The prodigal son (Luke 15): A sinful son returns to and is reconciled with his father. But in a dramatic twist, the “obedient” son becomes bitter and refuses to enter his father’s house. Even more dramatically, the parable ends without us knowing whether or not the obedient son ever entered. This is because you are that son and you must decide for yourself if you will enter the Father’s house on His terms or stay outside, brooding that God doesn’t do everything on your terms.
  10. The dishonest steward (Lk 16:1-13): An unscrupulous steward has been discovered embezzling funds. In the end, though, Jesus praises his craftiness even though it is wrong. The point being made is that most sinners are far more dedicated to their world than Christians are to the Kingdom. This parable is another example showing that too many are simply not willing to fight for and with the Kingdom; they are thus lost as much through apathy as through wickedness.
  11. The rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31): In this parable, a rich man who has been insensitive to the poor ends up in Hell. Through this we are taught that such insensitivity is a damnable sin. In the great drama of his life, the rich man preferred to be wealthy in the world rather than to store up treasure for himself in Heaven. So hardened is his heart that even though he is now in torment in Hell, he does not ask to come to Heaven, but rather that Lazarus be dispatched to Hell to bring him water. In this, the rich man shows that he has not changed; he still looks down on Lazarus and prefers creature comforts to God and His kingdom. The rich man’s heart is hardened and so can ours be if we let sin, neglect, and insensitivity go unchecked.
  12. The wicked vineyard workers (Mat 21:33-41): The owner of a vineyard sends his representatives to collect his share of the produce, but the wicked workers beat some and kill others. Finally, they kill the owner’s son. Next the owner comes and submits them to a bad end. In the drama of this world, there are many who reject God’s call for a share in their hearts; they beat or even kill those who prophetically call them to give glory to God and to live holy lives. In rejecting His appointed prophets, they also reject Christ and will come to a bad end.
  13. The great banquet (Matt 22:1-14; Lk 14:15-24): A king holds a wedding feast for his son, but the invited guests are too involved in worldly affairs to bother coming, even to so great an event. The king grows angry and burns their town. He then goes off to invite others until the banquet is filled. There is one man in attendance who refuses to wear the provided wedding attire. For this, he is thrown into the outer darkness. Through this parable we are taught that while many are called, few are chosen. Our decision to accept or reject God’s invitation is critical. Either we accept it and enter the feast or else face a fiery end. Even those of us who accept must wear the robe of righteousness that God provides us or else risk being cast into the outer darkness. Our decisions are dramatic and they determine our destiny.
  14. The wise and the foolish virgins (Mat 25:1-13): Ten bridesmaids await the groom’s arrival. Five were wise and carried extra oil; five were foolish and thus unprepared when the groom arrived. The wedding went on without the foolish bridesmaids and when they finally returned, the groom said to them, “Depart from me; I know you not.” This parable depicts the drama of our lives. We must live in readiness. The oil of our holiness must always be replenished and be kept ready through prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, and fellowship with the Church (Acts 2:42). Judgment day is coming. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.
  15. The sheep and the goats (Mat 25:31-46): In a scene of the great judgment, the Lord welcomes the righteous sheep on his right to the glory of Heaven, but consigns the wicked goats on His left to the fires of Hell. While the passage emphasizes the corporal works of mercy and indicates that to neglect them is a damnable sin, the passage should not be taken to mean these will be the only matters adjudicated. Again, note how dramatic are the decisions in our life, including how we choose to care for the poor and needy.

The Lord repeatedly sets before us the great drama of human life and the importance of our decisions. Our choices matter and they build to a fundamental, final destiny. Thoughts beget deeds, deeds beget habits, habits beget character, and character begets destiny. This is the drama and dignity of our life.

Though consistently preached by Jesus in the parables and in countless other texts, this theme is rarely mentioned in preaching today. We preachers must change this if we are to announce the Gospel authentically. For those who hear and heed the message, blessings await. For those who stubbornly refuse or who sinfully neglect the message, doom awaits. This is the drama of every human life.

Here are two final passages; The first contains a warning, the second a blessing.

Jesus said, “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch” (Mk 13:33-37).

Therefore, you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing (Mat 24:44-47).

In the next post in this series, on Monday of next week, we will ponder some ways to be ready.