Will this be on the test?
We’re getting close to the end of the church year. And what that means is that our readings take a decided turn. This is not about the kind, loving Jesus who wants to invite us all, or as sometimes I like to say, the teddy bear Jesus. This isn’t the Jesus that’s doing things or saying things to make us feel better.
This is the Jesus to remind us that as some students want to know, yes, this will be on the test. The end of the year is a time where we think of ultimate accountability. There’s been a tendency in religion, I think, in some ways, to cut against the grain of what we know as human beings.
And this is what I mean. Hell has kind of fallen out of fashion. We don’t like to think about it. Some claim it doesn’t exist. But really, what we’re talking about is whether or not in the Christian life there’s any accountability.
Imagine parents who had no rules, limits, or consequences for their children when they did something wrong. We certainly know that in those instances, if there were no consequences for bad behavior, we’d have very unhealthy kids. It would be bad for them.
Think of a world where there was no accountability for paying taxes. You could just kind of decide whether you wanted to do it or not. And if you didn’t, well, okay, that’s your choice. Think about crime. I know in the city of St. Louis, where I came from, there’s a new focus on what they’re calling quality of life crimes. In other words, those things which disrupt our life, stolen vehicles, petty vandalism, things that make us feel unsafe in our own home.
We know on some level, then, that there is this notion that we will be held accountable in some way for our actions. And that’s what Jesus is getting at here in the Gospel. That if we get complacent, if we don’t think much about our life, if we don’t really think much about the demands of the Gospel, then, in fact, we have to be worried that something may come out of the blue that we did not prepare for.
Now, this is not because we’re horrible, miserable people. That would be a mistaken understanding of this notion of accountability. Hell is actually a sign of God’s love. And why do I say that? Because hell is God’s loving decision to allow us to get what we choose.
Think of that for a minute. It’s God’s loving decision to allow us to get what we choose. If we choose to reject God, God loves us so much, He will allow us to get what we choose. But it need not be that way. In fact, all we need is an open heart to God.
And quite frankly, that’s part of what the Book of Wisdom is getting at. When we think about the world, what we’re really seeking to find is the Lord God Himself. And we have experiences of that on a human level as well. A beautiful sunset. Even a snowstorm, I suppose, has its own sense of beauty and quiet. The beauty of plants and flowers, the beauty of other human beings.
We have all kinds of invitations to see where it is that God is present in our lives. These next few days are going to be what we would call kind of apocalyptic readings. Readings that help us to kind of envision what the end of the world is going to be like.
I haven’t had any time to count, but I’m told that Jesus in the Gospels mentions hell more than anything else. I’ve got to go count some day and find out. Now sometimes it’s Gehenna, sometimes it’s got different names.
But the basic idea is that Jesus mentions over and over again, there’s this notion that we’re ultimately going to be accountable. And so He puts before us a choice. It’s the choice of Moses. Life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life then, that you may live forever with God.
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