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Toshiki Toma

Jesus judges us! … but how?

13. nóvember 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

Advent will be upon us in two weeks. A new year in the church calendar is approaching. During this time, we usually hear passages from the Bible regarding “the second coming of Christ” or “the end of this world”.

In our faith, the end of this world means the beginning of the perfect reign of God: so basically, it is not a horrifying thing, even though some terrible descriptions about that day can be seen in the Bible. The Kingdom of God is to completely replace the world in which we are living now, as Christ descends to us again.

And what will he do this time? He will judge us, who are living; and will also judge the dead. We profess this belief in every church service. We have just said together, in our confession: “(Jesus) is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” So Jesus judges us, one by one. Each of us has to stand in front of Jesus and receive his judgment upon us.

What do you think about that? What kind of judgment do you expect from Jesus? If the judge were not Jesus, but just “someone in the Heaven”, I would be panicked before the judgment is declared. I have to make an effort to recall my good deeds, but my bad deeds spring easily to mind. I would be put in the “lowest level of Heaven” if the judge were generous, and in the lightest level of Hell if the judge were severe.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. The matter I want to consider well, here, is that it is Jesus who will judge us. Honestly speaking, even though I repeat this phrase every day, that “he will come to judge the living and the dead”, something doesn’t fit my feeling that “Jesus judges us.” Isn’t Jesus a loving, forgiving and accepting savior? How could he judge us at all?

I admit that Jesus speaks many hard words of judgment in the Bible. In the gospel according to Matthew, for example: “(…) the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Mt.13:49-50);

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”(Mt.23:15)

But these words are either given to teachers of that time who didn’t accept their own sinfulness; or used in his parables to teach the Gospel to his disciples. Jesus does not judge anyone harshly who has made a mistake, because of their weakness or having sinned in yielding to temptation.

When Jesus meets someone who confronts his own weakness, Jesus doesn’t judge him: instead, Jesus leads him to deep consideration about how he should really behave. For example, in the case of the woman caught in adultery: Jesus spoke only a few words with her, but surely she was lead to repentance.

In the case of the pious rich man who asked Jesus what else he should do in order to achieve eternal life: Jesus suggested him to give all his property to the poor, but he could not follow the suggestion. Nevertheless Jesus spoke gently to him because this young man was sincere. We don’t know what this young man did after this encounter with Jesus. He might have decided to abandon his property and follow Jesus after all.

How does Jesus judge us? I came across a useful episode that illustrates it well. Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and theologian. He wrote many good, influential books. There is a short story in one of his works “The Wounded Healer”. The story goes like this:

One day a young deserter, a soldier who flees his duty, comes to a small village and asks for shelter. The people of the village hid him that night. But soon, other soldiers came looking for the deserter. They were sure that that the boy was somewhere in the village, and threatened the people there, saying, “If you don’t tell us where the boy is by tomorrow morning, we will burn the village and kill all of you.”

The people in the village were frightened, so they went to their priest and asked for his advice. The priest thought very hard, trying to find the right answer. Should they surrender the young soldier to the army to save the village? Or they should protect him, and risk losing everything? The priest stayed in his library all night long and read the Bible to find the answer.

As dawn approached, the priest finally came across a phrase in the Bible: “it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”(Jn. 11:50) So the priest called the soldiers and told them where the boy was. The boy was arrested, taken away and executed. The whole village celebrated the solution to their problem and their own survival. But the priest was saddened by the entire situation.

That night an angel appeared to him and asked, “What did you do?” The priest answered, “I surrendered a young boy who ran away from his military duty to the army.” The angel said: “Do you know it was the Christ that you handed over?” The priest was surprised: “Oh, but how could I have known?” The angel said gently: “Instead of reading the Bible, if only you had gone to the boy and looked into his eyes, you would have known it.”

This is not a story about the judgment of Jesus. But I think this story gives us an important clue about how Jesus would judge us on the last day. Jesus doesn’t count all the good deeds that we have ever done, weighed against all the bad things that we have ever done.

Our lives are not bank accounts or balance sheets, plus and minus. We could encounter a situation where we don’t know the right answer exactly, like the story of the deserter and the priest. We could do the wrong thing, trying to do the right thing. Sometimes we have to choose the least bad option from among bad options. We even betray Jesus now and then without noticing it.

So Jesus doesn’t judge us merely by weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds. That’s not the point. Jesus is not a judge in that sense. Then what kind of judge is Jesus?

What Jesus judges is whether we are reconciled with God the Father or not. To clarify: If we have some wound in ourselves that has not been healed; some emptiness that we cannot fill; a feeling of guilt; regret or pain; then we are not in perfect reconciliation with God.

It’s not same thing as believing in God or not, or whether or not we are baptized. Even a pious man can bear an unhealed wound for a long time. In some cases, we ourselves are directly responsible for the wound. Sometimes we might not be responsible for it at all, just victims of the situation.

Think about the priest who had handed over the deserter in the story by Henri Nouwen. Did he regret for what he did? Yes, surely. Could he achieve peace of mind and forget about it? Maybe not. He has to live with that for the rest of his life.

Many of you have experienced being an asylum seeker, losing your own home country. Even though you have been accepted here in Iceland, you might have spent years to getting that status. It must be very difficult to reconcile with the fact of losing one’s country or having spent many years in life in uncertainty.

How about the victims of shooting? Can they forget about what has happened, even though they survived? I guess not. How about those who have lost young family members? Is it possible to overcome the loss and sorrow completely? I don’t think so.

We all have broken and torn parts of ourselves that have not been mended yet, and probably never will be while we are living. This is what I mean by the phrase “we are not in perfect reconciliation with God”, since the healing which is supposed to come from God is not completed yet.

I believe that on the last day, when we stand before Jesus, he will only ask us: “Do you need my help?” Jesus knows all about us, he understands what kind of unhealed wounds we have in ourselves. “Do you need my help? I want to help you.” How do you answer? If we can answer, “Yes, my Lord. I need your help, please,” then we are truly repentant and obedient to Christ.

And we enter the Kingdom of God, where all our unhealed wounds are healed, and all the broken and torn parts of ourselves are mended. Jesus is a judge in this sense. He came to this world not to judge us as guilty, but to lead us to salvation and complete reconciliation with God.

Our life on earth is important. God our Father created us to live this life. And while we walk the earth, we could get hurt, or hurt others. But because of our faith in Christ, we will surely be able to manage our journey on earth despite bearing our unhealed wounds.

We will be healed at last, completely, in the Kingdom of God. Our life on earth is not completed by itself. It is completed together with the Kingdom of God.
Before Advent arrives, we shall remember that once again.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

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