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Sunday, December 1, 2013

On Matthew 25:31-46


In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus told a parable about the sheep and the goats. This passage ends in verses 44 to 46 with, “Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.; And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
About thirty years ago, I knew a young couple named Jack and Phyllis. They desired to be involved in prison ministry. They contacted the local jail, and were told that they needed to submit to a background check, get finger printed, and take a course offered by the jail. They did all those things, and completed the course. At the end of that, they were told that they were scheduled to be allowed to come to the jail and meet prisioners one hour per month. Why so little? The idea that the jail had a programmed course would tell us the answer—so many persons had volunteered to do the same.
I have written in the past that I am no longer able to work consistent hours. I live in my son's house, and he lives in a suburban area. As I do not make any money, I go to a food pantry. It didn't occur to me that that was an option until a couple of years ago, when one put a posting on craigslist. It was about ten miles away in the country. One day, they closed down. Upon that occurring, I thought that there must be one closer to me. In looking on the website of the regional food bank, I found, to my surprise, that there were three within one mile of me. Why so many? Well, for manufacturers, I imagine they can donate food that doesn't quite match the taste they expect their product to have. For grocery stores, they can send things that have passed their freshness date the same way. For the food bank, it takes volunteers, but no specialized skills. For churches (who almost exclusively are the organizations who are doing the passing out of food), it takes people with time, but not necessarily specialized skills.
With clothing, once again, a few organizations are involved in receiving donated clothing, reselling the best in stores for very reasonable rates, and giving clothes to the most extremely poor, and bundling and selling the rest of the cloth in bulk to companies who export that to the Third World. Every city has an organization or more to shelter the homeless. As my friends above attest to, many individuals volunteer to visit prisioners. Certain hospitals will care for those who cannot afford it to a minimal level, but it is only to a minimal level, as, at this point in history, this is the one of these directives which involves a need for highly skilled persons. Of course, there are many hospitals which were founded a long time ago by various Christian organizations, although in many, maybe even in most cases, this has minimal impact on the persons who are the actual caregivers anymore. I particularly think of the idea that the higher the medically trained persons, the more time they have spent in the scientific educational system, which in our culture has an anti-Christian bias, although they have been trained that, once in their job, to put on the socially acceptable face.
I question that Jesus meant for this scripture to be so over-literalized. In my city, and in most metro areas of this country, there is an overkill of food pantries and prison ministries. I have been aware of that for years, as what God has put on my heart is college campus ministry. In that, literally all one has to do is go. I will say that having the intellegence to care about a wide variety of ideas is important to actual valid ministry, but there's no guard at the door. For a few years, I did this at a certain private college campus where, technically, I didn't have permission to be, although, in actuality, I am sure to the administration, it was far more important to get a grip on who was walking onto campus dealing drugs than one person talking to people about Jesus.
One of the factors, once again, is that there is this unspoken communication, at least among some leadership, that, with the exception of personal evangelism, it is only truly ministry if it is organized within an institutional church or non-profit, and has a budget attached to it. Of course, no one would actually say that...

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