“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?’” (Matthew 25:37)
My parents have lived a mile from me for 13 years. They relocated from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania to be near me a little over a year after my first husband died. They expected more from me than I delivered, and I was stingy with my time and visits, which felt like precious real estate gouged out of my busy schedule.
Over the years I came to the sobering realization that one day I would not have my parents anymore, and then I would be very sorry I had neglected them—and so I started visiting them more regularly, and gradually started suggesting outings. It was fun, and I started to look forward to regular coffee and doughnut outings with my mom, and to sitting on the back stoop with my dad at the end of a satisfying day in the vegetable garden.
I was just thinking about the words Jesus will speak to the righteous on Judgment Day, and the curious answer the righteous will give him. Jesus will commend them for their righteous deeds—water to a thirsty person, clothing to an ill-clad person, etc.—and the righteous will scratch their heads and try to remember and will not come up with much, but then they will finally ask: “Lord, when did we do that?” And Jesus will have to remind them.
The little epiphany I am having about what is prophesied in Matthew is that when acts of righteousness become pleasing (rather than begrudging) to the doer, they stop feeling like acts of righteousness. Instead, they feel like something the doer likes doing anyway and would do even if they were not compelled to. The doer has no self-consciousness of putting himself out.
We see this kind of thing all the time. We assume that people like the late Mother Teresa, whom we admired for her sacrifice, have days that are secretly miserable. But the reality was that there was probably nowhere this nun would rather have been than in the slums of India.
In a way, it doesn’t seem right that Jesus should reward us for deeds that are enjoyable to do—even if they were good deeds. After all, the reward is already contained in the deed. But behold the graciousness of God, that He doles out double blessings, one on earth and one in heaven, for the right things we do without complaining and with joy during this time of our sojourn.