It’s trendy and seemingly unoffensive to take an agnostic approach to religion these days (and probably previous days and days to come). I’m a millennial, and discussing faith with my peers in a group setting almost always elicits a few comments like, “I don’t believe in God; just be a good person.” The problem, of course, is no one can agree on what, exactly, defines a “good person.” Without any higher authority providing such moralism, it’s all too tempting to create a framework of ethics that is convenient, self-focused, and easily attained based on your personal perspective. And, at the end of it all, who is holding you accountable?
Today’s reading from Leviticus shows us some codified Hebrew laws that give us a pretty good example of what a “good person” might look like. He or she does not lie, steal, murder, cheat his or her neighbor, slander, harbor hate, etc. These are mostly black-and-white laws with a clear right and a clear wrong.
The reading from the Gospel according to Matthew also paints a picture of what a “good person” might look like: someone who has cared for the hungry, the destitute, the sick, the poor, the persecuted. On the other hand, someone who has not shown compassion has a pretty miserable future indeed: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46a). The reading describes both the righteous at God’s right side and the sinners at His left, asking the same question about how they got there: “Lord, when we saw thee hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?” Both groups aren’t quite sure they can remember being (or not being) kind to Jesus when he was hungry, destitute, sick, poor, or persecuted. Jesus responds: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The ethical prescriptions from today’s New Testament reading describe what is required of the earthly Christian’s life. However, the rules are much less clear cut than those of the Hebrew law. In fact, they require so much discernment that those at the right and left hand of God are not even sure when they did (or did not) follow them. Jesus tells us to love one another. The whole of the Bible gives us a framework to live out our lives. And even today’s Psalm reading reaffirms the need—and benefit—of following God’s commandments: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”
“Good person” agnosticism circumvents Jesus’ work on the cross, as well as the Resurrection. During Lent, we are reminded of the completeness of Jesus’ difficult journey on Earth, and called, against the backdrop of Old Testament law, to re-examine His commandment to love. We have a clear set of guidelines to follow to be a “good person,” as prescribed by God, and God made flesh. It is not always easy, but we are shown the reward is life eternal.
Quin Woodward Pu
Appointed readings for today: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18, Psalm 19:7-14, Matthew 25:31-46