“What must we do?” Think about the possible verb substitutions for must: could, should, would. When the Lord addressed his disciples he didn’t use auxiliary verbs. He related a future–not quite a parable. Call it science fiction, or whatever, but recognize the verbs are very direct: gave, welcomed, clothed, cared, visited. Let’s read a very familiar passage:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
I find it illustrative that the righteous seem unaware of their virtue:
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least sisters or brothers of mine,
you did for me.’
Clearly, the sheep have no idea. Perhaps they focus instead on love, and the deeper connection with others isn’t dependent on what they “must” do, or “should” do. Those on the other side, seem also clueless, but to their detriment:
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
I’m not sure this passage is a welcome addition to the Reconciliation Lectionary. As many remind us, even a guest or two here, we cannot effect salvation for ourselves based on our own merits.
But perhaps a hint may be helpful. Perhaps we claim to have love and faith, and we seek a little surety, a bit of hope. Is it right for a confessor to ask of a penitent, “How are you living your life?” Perhaps a consistent sin against love bring to mind a thought: why not practice, aiming at perfection? If the heart is not there yet, perhaps the hands can lead. What do you think?