A Musing about Ascending to Heaven if not Higher.
Matthew 25:31-46 NIV
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put 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; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The Jewish American Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning author Saul Bellow was a prolific writer and intellectual. In a collection of short stories and fables he tells the story about a rabbi who lived in a small Jewish town in Russia. The rabbi had a secret. Every Friday morning the rabbi disappeared for several hours.
The people of his congregation liked to tell people that during his absence from them, their rabbi went up to heaven and talked to God.
When a stranger moved into town and heard this explanation for the rabbi’s weekly departure, he was skeptical. In spite of the repeated story and no other explanation he was not convinced. However, he
was curious about where the rabbi went, so he decided to find out what was really going on.
The next Friday morning, he hid by the rabbi’s house, waiting and watching. As usual, the rabbi got up and said his prayers. But unlike other mornings of the week, he then dressed in peasant clothes. He grabbed an ax and wandered off deep into the woods to cut some firewood. With the man watching from afar, the rabbi then hauled the wood to a shack on the outskirts of the village where an old woman and her sick son lived. He left them the wood, enough for a week, and then went quietly back home.
After seeing what the rabbi did, the stranger decided to stay in the village and join the congregation. From then on, whenever he heard one of the villagers say, “On Friday morning our rabbi ascends all the way to heaven,” the newcomer quietly added, “If not higher.”
Though that is where Bellow’s story ends, part of me wants to believe that the rabbi’s example inspired that man to do likewise. Maybe it was delivering food to that family or another. Maybe a bouquet of flowers found its way to folks who needed them each week. Maybe this man went to visit this sick young man and read to him or simply sit with him to give the old woman a break. Maybe it was some other act of kindness.
I have no idea if that is what happened, but I think that is what Jesus was saying about service when he told the story above which we most often refer to as the sheep and the goats.
None of the acts from the scripture above were heroic acts requiring great skill or wealth. They were simple acts – some food and drink, hospitality and clothing, comfort to those in pain. Like a load of wood, they are all simple acts which make all the difference and which I believe God looks down on and says “well done good and faithful child.”
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Alleluia, Amen.