If Jesus Were to Return

El Greco, Jesus Drives the Money Changers from the Temple

Spiritual Sunday

The trumpification of white evangelical Protestants and rightwing Catholics is nowhere clearer to me then in their response to today’s gospel reading. They all but pretend it doesn’t apply to them. My father has a poem imagining how such people would respond to Jesus if he were to return.

The reading is Matthew 25:31-46:

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Jesus says the left group will experience “eternal punishment”:

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

While a number of Trumpist Christians seem all too ready to predict “eternal fire” for Christians like Joe Biden and me—radical Catholics call the president-elect a “Catholic in Name Only” (a CINO) and white evangelical Protestants see people like me as not real Christians—I read Jesus’s hell the way I read Dante’s Inferno: as a metaphor for the internal hell that we create for ourselves.

We are in hell when, say, we turn a blind eye to children torn away from their asylum-seeking parents and families deprived of food stamps and health care. Our Catholic Attorney General is in hell when he seeks to speed up executions in his final days. Racists are in hell when they dehumanize people of color.

In Scott Bates’s “Second Coming,” such Christians would vote for Trump over Jesus if the latter were to return:

The Second Coming
By Scott Bates

And in that latter day
     It came to pass
When Jesus came again to Jerusalem
     Riding an ass

No children came to dance before him then
     His silent ride
Was heralded by no cries of hosannah
     On either side

No palms or garments strewn
     Beneath his feet
Only the dusty midmorning sun
     Carpeting the street

And when he’d climbed the ancient temple steps
     And opened wide
The clanging tabernacle doors
     And stepped inside

And when he’d overthrown the tables and the chairs
     It came to pass
The money changers and the sellers of doves
     Rose up in wrath

And cast him from the holy house of prayer
     They drove him down
Down through the twisted narrow ways of Jerusalem
     Out from the town

They drove him out past all the empty doors,
     The barren trees
And turned and went back to their Priests and Scribes
     And Pharisees.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” reads the Lord’s Prayer. Opening one’s heart to those who suffer—not driving them out past “the empty doors and barren trees”—is how one achieves heaven on earth.

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