Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High, king of Glory, Lord.
There is an ethical framework that is played out here. That much everyone knows. It is even a somewhat obvious framework that has its roots in the sermon on the mount as quoted above. Good is to be done and woe to those who leave it undone. Though, the goats do not know that they are leaving something undone any more than the sheep know that they are doing blessed things. They are both acting their nature. As last week, the fact that God is Father of all, patriarch of our lives, dictates that we live as if we were inhabitants of his house because that is what we are. Not taking on the character of the family is to refuse to be part of the household of God.
A further thing to note, and also informed by the sermon on the mount: One extended kindness to ones own family out of a sense of duty and also out of steadfastness to the family. One loved ones family as oneself because they were extensions of oneself much more so than today. One only had one another when it really mattered. One “loved” those who “loved” you back. It was in the interest of the family and the individual that one did so.
Hospitality was another matter. It was not extended to family who were assumed to be taken care of by the household. Hospitality was extended to strangers, and, since it was unknown who these people were and whether they were trustworthy or not, it was somewhat risky business that was done mainly by the men of the house. Abraham hosting the three angels at the oak of Marme is an example of this. (Gen 18)
This parable might well recall that episode. Just look at the content: God is about to bring judgement on the inhospitable Gomorra but is received by Abraham to whom favor is shown and who, based on his hospitable manner, is granted the privilege of intercession with God. Lot's house, his family, is shown to be “sheep” as well by Lot’s insistent (he has to beg the angels to accept it) and dangerous (he almost gets crushed protecting the visitors) hospitality to the two angels and Lot and his family are spared from the fire. (Gen 19)
Except, of course, for Lot’s wife. I am not sure why she ended up as a pillar of salt. The simple answer was that she disobeyed instructions. But why look back in the first place? Human nature loves a disaster that is happening to someone else. Watch the evening news and you know it is true. Recall that executions were once public and that they were events to be seen at. Recall that Rome had an entertainment industry that relied on this as does Hollywood. The more gory, the better. When Sodom and Gomorra are incinerated for ever and ever, it is best to avert your eyes. When God doles out final judgement, perhaps it is best not to gloat either. It is not safe, spiritually and certainly physically, to be in the vicinity of the wrath of God being unleashed.
This parable is about judgement after all. The “goats” will go to destruction in the sea of fire prepared for the devil and his own. (25:41) For the sheep it is best that they maintain their sense of surprise at being the ones led into the kingdom. (25:37)
There is a branch of theology known as theodicy. It is 18th century type of stuff, started in a theological debate that included Leibniz who could not let the idea that evil existed go unexplained and merely accepted. Leibniz embarked on the project to show that in spite of the presence of evil God is nonetheless good. Voltaire harshly criticized Leibniz in “Candide” by mocking the idea that the world we live in is in any way even acceptable. God is failing to show that God is good because this is clearly not the best of all possible worlds. Contained in there is the assumption that if God is good then evil should not exist because God should have pulled a Sodom and Gomorra on evil long ago. The assumption really is that we should recognize, hate, and eradicate evil in the world. All three of these actions are dangerous to our spirit. None of them are charity, in the 1 Cor 13 sense, in any way. Jesus on the other hand points out that good and evil enjoy the providence of God’s maintenance of creation. Evil, St. Paul adds, is not fought well with more evil. That merely increase evil in the world. Evil is only overcome with good.
Bill Zimmann of blessed memory enjoyed asking the difficult question: “Do you think God loves the devil?” That always got a harsh reaction from pastors at bible study. But, Jesus says it is the nature of God to love even the enemy. Peter Kreeft once wrote: “Heaven would gladly exchange places with hell to end their suffering. They send an emissary to make that offer every day but every day the offer is rejected. That is why Jesus was hung for Judas but Judas hung himself.” The evil does not want to be loved neither can it love.
To live in this world it is good to remember a couple of things: First the wisdom of Eli: “He is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (1 Sam 3:18) We are celebrating Christ the King Sunday with this text after all. We might intercede for the world and even the conversion of evil but in the end it is up to a power that will make up his own mind in the matter and act without taking a vote on it. It is best to be in submission to the King of kings.
What to do in that state of submission? Sit down like the stoics? No: Do, yes, do, as the master would. From last week we know that we are best advised to act in character with the master. What is that character? How are we “perfect” or “complete” as our Father in heaven? In charity. Not “love” toward those who are inclined towards already anyway but charity as a life habit. In all things. With all people. With all things even. Those “evil” — though we really do not know who that is — and those “good” — though we do not really know that someone is one or the other as neither the sheep or goats know of their state. Yes, charity with all and everything at all time, beginning with the least and most forgotten who are the recipients of no charity otherwise.
Fr. Herbel, the prior at St. Augustine’s House in Michigan once advised in a sermon: “Always do the most gracious thing you can think of and you will never have to apologize.” It was advice he had gotten from his mentor Fr. Arthur Kreinheder at the occasion of a difficult decision. Whether it is good advice or not depends on your capacity to think about gracious solutions to the question: “What should I do,” I guess. God thought of a coronation with a cross serving as the throne. (John 19) What do you think you might come up with?
When God found us, we were found helpless as if we were abandoned babes that were left to the chaotic forces of this world. (Ez 16) We were found wandering in the desert hungry and parched our very bones demanding that we satisfy the longings of the flesh in any way possible. (Ex 16) We were found to be in the prison of sin, death and hell. (1 Pt 3) In each of these the King of kings worked his greatest labor: Charity. It is this charity that overcame the temptations in the desert (Mt 4) It is this charity that discloses him King of kings. It is this King that now says: Follow me and you will see world, flesh and devil fall from their usurped thrones like lightning. (Lk 10:18) Will you walk under his banner?