On Wednesday night, we hosted Rabbi Dana Magat from Temple Emanu-El in San Jose. I kept thinking about something he said to us about Reformed Judaism. Essentially Rabbi Dana said that our actions have eternal significance. How we act in this life has ramifications in our afterlife. I am sure the good Lutherans in the room bristled at the comment as they remembered Martin Luther’s explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed. (Am I right? Ha!)
Here is what Pr. Luther wrote: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, delivered me and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver and gold but with his holy and precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death, in order that I may be his, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
We Lutherans say– we don’t have to worry about how we act because Jesus saved us by offering himself as a sacrifice on the cruel Roman cross. It is God’s grace that covers our sins and we don’t have to worry about the afterlife if we believe in Jesus.
As Pr. Luther would say, “This is most certainly true.”
There is always a “but.” Remember what I said last night, “Lutherans live life in the grey.” We wrestle and sometimes do not resolve things and that is ok too. There is another Rabbi from 2000 years ago whom we follow also said this about this life and the afterlife:
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “ ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:14-30
Before I even talk about this parable of Jesus you need to know that this is in a section of Matthew where Jesus is talking about the end times, judgment and the afterlife. This parable reminds us that our actions today (this life) have ramifications for our tomorrow (the afterlife).
Jesus teaches us that what we do with our gifts (abilities, passions, skills, etc.) have some bearing on our future. If we waste or hoard what has been given to us; we will answer for that. The amount of what we have (abilities, passions, skills, etc.) been given isn’t the measure of acceptability. It is what we do them (no matter how small) that matters to God.
It is the difference between asking my son (when he was in school), “Did you get an A on the test?” versus “Did you do the best you possibly could do?” The point I am trying to make is this: God isn’t looking for perfection. He is looking for our best effort. Notice the servant in the parable who doesn’t make an effort with what he was given. It did not end well for him.
The parable is not meant to scare anyone. It is meant for us to reflect on the kind of life we are living and whether it matches up with God’s expectations. Those who are truly following Jesus think about their actions. Those who rely on what Pr. Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” do not. To put it another way, “If your faith hasn’t changed you, it probably hasn’t save you.”
I understand that sounds a little harsh but it gets at the heart of what Jesus was teaching. As God is generous with us by giving us gifts (abilities, passions, skills, etc.) we use those gifts to be generous with others. If we neglect those gifts or keep them to ourselves, we will have to answer for that.
Of course, we cannot earn our way to heaven. Yet there is something to be said about the quality of afterlife we will have based on how we live our lives today. If you doubt me, go re-read the parable of Jesus.
On Wednesday, one Rabbi reminded me of what another Rabbi once said.