The gospel writer Matthew tells a story about a young man who approached Jesus with a simple question, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Had that young man asked most of us the same question, we might have quickly explained that we believe that we are not saved by works but by faith. Some of us might have quoted Martin Luther or one of the early leaders of the Protestant Reformation to illustrate how misguided the question was. Jesus, however, not having the Reformation leaders to guide him, answered simply, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Also recounted by Matthew, Jesus tells a story of a time at the end of time when he will gather the nations before him and separate people into two groups. Trying to identify with his audience he suggests that it will be similar to a shepherd separating the sheep and goats. If Jesus were speaking in our world, he might suggest that he will separate them like cops and robbers or Yankees and Red Socks. In Jesus’ story the only distinction between the two groups of people is what they did or did not do. Their actions. The choices they made in life.
Apart from how any of us would understand these stories with regard to salvation, what is clear is the high value Jesus places on the choices we make and the actions we take. In these stories Jesus is true to his Hebrew upbringing where actions are a better measure of a person than beliefs. As a tree is judged by its fruits, we will be judged by our actions (Matthew 12:33-37).
[to be continued next week…]