My grandma told me many puzzling Taoist stories when I was young; some of them took me a lifetime to understand. Here’s one of them.
A man from a small village took his handicrafts to sell in a distant town, passing a deep forest. A few days later, he returned home with a sack of treasures on his shoulder. Surprised, The family asked how he got so rich selling his crafts. He said that a tiger he saved gave those treasures to him.
He said he passed by a cave in the forest on his way back and heard someone groaning. He went inside the cave to check and saw a dying tiger with a big infected wound on his arm. He knew the tiger wouldn’t live without intervention.
Out of pity, he took out his first aid kit, treated the wound with the medicine he traveled with, and bandaged it carefully. The tiger was shaking with fever and pain, so he put his blanket on the tiger and slept in that cave, accompanying the tiger for the night.
The next day, the tiger recovered and thanked him by giving him a sack of treasures to take home. “That’s how I got these treasures,” he concluded.
His brother asked him about the location of the cave, and the next day, he went into the forest and looked for the cave. To his surprise, he heard a tiger groaning inside a cave. He was afraid to go in, unsure whether the tiger would harm him. But, remembering the treasures he could get, he went in cautiously.
Just as his brother said, he saw a wounded tiger. But the wound smelled so disgusting that he almost threw up. However, considering the reward, he reluctantly treated the tiger and stayed in the smelly cave for the night.
The next day, the tiger woke up, grabbed him, and ate him. (End of the story.)
As a child, I vaguely understood the meaning of this allegory. Both brothers saved the tiger’s life, but why did the tiger reward one brother and punish the other? The ancient people may not have known God, but they had discovered nature rewards sincere love.
The first brother’s love was transformational, but the second was transactional. One is unpretentious, but the other is pretentious. One serves without a motive, but the other has a motive. Most importantly, one’s love is unconscious, but the other is conscious. Only the unconscious love is the ultimate love. Confucious said,
“When one does evil deeds and fears recognition,
there’s a good seed in their evil heart.
When one does good deeds and desires recognition,
there’s an evil root in their good heart.” ~Confucius
Pharisees loved to do good deeds in front of people to show off their piety. Jesus repeatedly warned us against showing off our good deeds. Jesus doesn’t even want our left hand to know the charity done with our right hand. He said,
“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mt 6:3–4).
Can you do that? It means you make a charitable contribution without a motive. The information from your right hand doesn’t even reach your brain to pass down to the left hand. That means you don’t dwell on your good deed, not even for a split second. It’s a sign of genuine love. Love doesn’t count the good deeds because it’s reflexive.
That’s how Jesus loves us. When he was hanging on the cross, he didn’t say see what I have done for you. Instead, he asked God to forgive us. Jesus’ love is pure, unconscious, and reflexive. That’s the ultimate love. There are four levels of love:
- Unconscious hatred
- Conscious hatred
- Conscious love
- Unconscious love
Some people have hatred without knowing. That’s the worst state of love. Some people reach the next level and become conscious of their evil. That’s better than unconscious hatred. Then, they consciously try to love. That’s good, but still not good enough. Then, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you become able to love unconsciously. When love becomes a reflex, you have the ultimate love.
Most importantly, Jesus said the single criterion of the final judgment is unconscious love. The only qualification for you to go to heaven is reflexive love—the kind of love that you do without doing.
Today, we will look at the scene of the final judgment as Jesus depicts it. You will find out it’s both simple and profound. In other words, Jesus reveals the question of our final exam. Will you pass the exam? Let’s find out!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 25:31-46. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
“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. 32 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, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
34 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; 35 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, 36 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.’
37 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? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 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.’
41 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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’
44 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?’ 45 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25:31–46).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
This parable is often misinterpreted in various ways. Some people mistakenly assume Jesus is saying that the final judgment is based on your good deeds alone. It’s deeper than that. If good deeds were the only criterion for final judgment, the Pharisees would have made it.
The second brother who treated the tiger would have been rewarded.
However, the core issue here is the fact that the righteous don’t even know they are doing good deeds. They did it unconsciously and reflexively.
This parable is the last one Jesus told before he went to the cross. It’s important because that’s his final instruction on how to live before his return. These parables are very relevant because we live in the time after his departure and before his return.
[Today is Christ the King Sunday, or the Reign of Christ Sunday (for the politically correct nerds), which marks the end of the liturgical year. Next week is the First Sunday of Advent, which begins a new church year. So, ending the year with Jesus’ last parable is appropriate.]
This last parable is called “The Parable of the Final Judgement” or “The Parable of the Sheep and Goats.”
Jesus began this end-time discourse with the teaching of the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, we must interpret these parables as the reinforcement of the Great Commandment. In short, they are about how to love.
Based on these parables, Jesus wants us to prove our love for God with our stewardship. The first parable is about the stewardship of leadership; second, the stewardship of wisdom (the Parable of the Ten Lamps); third, the stewardship of our resources (the Parable of the Talents); and finally, the stewardship of relationships.
In a sense, we can say that the first three parables are about loving God unconditionally, and this last parable is about loving your neighbor as yourself. However, Jesus reveals in this parable that loving people equals loving God. So, it still leads back to the First Commandment. 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.” (Mt 25:31).
Unlike Jesus’ first coming as an infant in a lowly manger, his second coming will be glamorous. We can only imagine what it would be like for him to 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. (Mt 25:32-33).
Here, he uses his favorite imagery as shepherd and sheep. Goats are, by nature, contentious. They love to fight. It implies two kinds of people on earth—those who love peace, like the sheep, and those who love quarreling, like goats.
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; (Mt 25:34).
Now, Jesus revealed himself as the king. He started describing himself as the Son of Man, then the shepherd, and now the king. He welcomes the people on the right, the peace-loving sheep, to the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
We all want to be in this group on the day of final judgment. The rest of the story reveals that you must love unconsciously to be in the group because these people extend their love to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners. They did it without motives.
They didn’t do these things to get credit from God, but Jesus reveals that when you do these to the needy, you do it to him. Since we now know this criterion of the final judgment, many would rush to do good deeds to enter heaven. But it doesn’t work that way because of the motive. It’s like the brother who treats the tiger for the reward.
So, the question is, how do we attain that purity of love? In fact, it’s not attainment but abandonment. It’s not addition but deduction. It’s not ascending but descending. It’s Godlikeness, just as Jesus descended to servanthood, washing our feet. Let me explain.
Jesus said the kingdom is within you. You are created in God’s image. John Calvin said we are born with a sense of divinity and a seed of spirituality. That means we are capable of divine love. Our love is not pure because we are corrupted by external things.
As a child, we are born with pure love. As we grow up, our seed of divinity is choked, brainwashed, and traumatized by the thorns of this corrupt world. That’s why we need not to attain pure love but to abandon the impurity. Then, our original pure love will shine out naturally.
That’s why Jesus says we cannot enter the kingdom unless we become like children. God created us as pure gold, but our environment makes us impure. So, we need to go through refinement to remove impurity and return to childlike love. We need pruning, not propagating, because pruning will make us fruitful.
How do you prune your life from impurity so that you can love unconsciously and enter the kingdom gloriously? Jesus said his word purifies us. John Chapter 15 reveals the details. He said,
“You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you.” (Jn 15:3–4a).
Jesus’ words have the cleansing or pruning power. By remaining in him, you maintain purity and bear much fruit—the fruit of love. He also explains in that chapter that you abide in him by maintaining your relationship with him by following his teachings. Jesus also said,
“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14).
Inside us, a well of spring water is stuck and waiting to flow out. Our life is like a pump that needs priming. Jesus’ word is the living water that primes our pump to allow a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
Again, this analogy shows that we already have the spring of pure love inside us. The traumas, worries, and anxiety of life block us from loving naturally. We must let Jesus’ word unblock us, allowing us to love out abundantly up to eternal life.
Now you know the criterion of the final judgment. It’s all about pure, unconscious, and reflexive love. All we need is to prune our lives to bear the fruit of pure love or prime our pump to let the spring of pure love gush out, making Jesus proud upon his return.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.