here was an educational television program my children used to watch when they were small, called ‘The Magic Schoolbus’, and the central figure was a teacher named ‘Miss Frizzle’. That character’s common advice, given to her students before they would embark on a class project would be, ‘take chances; make mistakes and get messy!’
The wisdom in this, of course, was that the students couldn’t learn anything if they didn’t take their studies beyond their classroom walls, and that they were bound to make mistakes if they tried – but they could learn from their mistakes. Most importantly though, it was the advice to ‘get messy’ that cut to the heart of the learning experience; life is seldom orderly; our best laid plans often don’t go exactly as we intended, and this reinforces for us the notion that we really are not in control of anything in life. Life is an ongoing creative process – and creation in itself is a messy business.
It is that ‘messiness’ of life, in the lives of all people, that Jesus addresses in today’s passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew; the story of the last judgment, of the separating of the sheep from the goats. For the past number of Sundays, as our liturgical year comes to an end, we have heard several parables from Jesus telling his followers to be ready to meet Him, to be alert, to follow His commands; and in these parables, we hear the consequences for those who are not ready, who are not alert, or who refuse to follow Him. In today’s passage, both the message of reward and the warning of consequence is blunt and direct.
Jesus, as the Son of Man in His glory, sitting on His judgement seat separates those who did His will – the sheep – from those who did not – the goats. And His will explained in this parable, is to be involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of those around us, of all who are in need. He cites as examples the hungry, the homeless, the naked and the imprisoned; to those who cared for these people, Christ welcomes into His Father’s kingdom – to those who ignored them, He directs them to the eternal separation from God that they have chosen themselves, through their own actions and choices.
Jesus continually emphasized during His public ministry, that the kingdom of heaven was not just something far off, after we left this lifetime; rather the kingdom of heaven begins here and now, and continues on; so the message in this Gospel is quite clear; to be part of His kingdom, we need to be involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of others, in their need. To refuse to do so, not only isolates us from others, but it isolates us from Christ here and now. If it becomes our regular ‘routine’ or ‘pattern’, then when it is our turn to stand before His throne, we will have shown a life of choice to isolate ourselves from Christ in our brothers and sisters; and if we have chosen to isolate ourselves, we can’t then blame God or Jesus for our decisions. We will be accountable for our actions in this lifetime or in the next.
This gospel is a call to charity. And in reality, charity can be broken down into two types; there is clean charity, and messy charity. Clean charity is when we might contribute in some material way to some identified need – perhaps cash donations, or food or clothing; in themselves these are good things to do; but in this way alone, we keep our hands clean. Messy charity is when we actually get physically involved in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned – it means rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty by being directly involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of others in need, and doing it simply for the love of God. That need is great, and that need is all around us; it can be something as simple as spending a little time visiting someone who is homebound or sick; cleaning a small child’s face, wiping away a friend’s tears, serving a bowl of soup at the local soup kitchen – introducing ourselves to someone new in our parish…so many ways to be involved in the lives of others, from the least to the greatest.
This is the message of today’s passage, and while it applies to our involvement in this life as the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbours, to be prepared to see and meet Christ in the poor and lonely and marginalized in the here and now, it invites us to be resolved to live in such a way as to be prepared to be counted among the sheep at Jesus’ right hand. It is an invitation to take the risk of stepping outside of our prayers and liturgy (our comfort zone) and get involved in the lives of those in need – it is an invitation to do the best we can, recognizing that however well we plan, we will fall or fail from time to time, but with God’s grace we will get up and try again – it is an invitation to roll up our sleeves to work toward the kingdom for Christ our King, and get our hands dirty in the need of those around us.
Or to use the words of Miss Frizzle – ‘take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!’
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!