What does it mean to be a Christian disciple? Is it about saying the right words? About belonging to the right church? About voting for the right political candidate or espousing a particular political ideology?
In today’s Gospel Jesus addresses this question head on. He tells his followers that, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
Perhaps to the shock of the self-appointed righteous followers of Christ, what distinguishes those who will be admitted to the Kingdom of heaven and those who won’t has nothing to do with the verbal claims one makes—it’s about the actions we perform. In other words, the old saying is true: “If you’re going to talk the talk, then you’ve got to walk the walk.”
Matthew’s account of the Gospel frequently turns to the importance of following God’s will as the marker of authentic Christian discipleship. It is in Matthew 25 that we encounter the most famous admonition of Jesus to his followers:
“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.’
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 brothers of mine, you did for me.’
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.” (Matt 25:31-46)
At the end of our lives, whether we said the right words or associated with the “in crowd” won’t matter. Many will likely find themselves in the presence of their Creator saying, “Lord, Lord” but their actions will speak a much-louder word of testimony.
During this season of Advent, a time of preparation and reflection, may we use these days wisely to examine our way of being Christians in the world. Do we remain in the comfort zone of merely “talking the talk” or do we dare to “walk the walk” alongside Christ?