Chapter & Verse: Matthew 25:31-46
Anthony Reddie finds Christ in surprising places
There has always been a tension in the Church between what’s more important: believing the right thing or doing the right thing. And the Church has always been clear: it’s the first, not the second. Certainly in the Methodist church, although we have a strong tradition for social justice, we still say that the means of salvation is through the scriptures in the name of Jesus. You get saved by acknowledging the saving work of Jesus. If you happen to do the work that Jesus calls us to do, that’s great, but it’s not essential.
This passage, about the sheep and the goats, disagrees. There’s no indication that those on the right – the sheep who do the right thing – also believe the right thing. They act in solidarity with those in need, and by doing so, it would appear, they are saved. Those on the left, the goats, may well believe, we don’t know, but they don’t do the right thing. So, clearly, we have to do the right thing, helping others.
But here’s the rub: it’s very easy to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons, which makes it wrong.
When I was a university student, I went with the Student Christian Movement on a mission to Droitwich. We spent a week working alongside people on the margins. I befriended a young man called Bert who had drug addictions. I knew nothing about drug addictions but tried to help him because I was full of righteous zeal and I wanted to do the right thing. But the truth is it was a transaction: I was doing it to work out my faith. It never occurred to me that this guy might have something to teach me…
Anthony Reddie is Professor of Black Theology at Oxford and Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture. This article is edited from a sermon delivered at Greenbelt
This article was published in the October 2023 edition of Reform