As Jacques Derrida said of himself, I “rightly pass for an atheist.”1 So I don’t expect ever to experience the event that traditional Christianity calls the Last Judgment. Nonetheless, because I find Jesus to be the archetype of what we rightly call divine love, love that leads us to justice, peace, and mercy, the question of how Jesus would judge my life is an important one.
Jesus answers that question in the 25th chapter of Matthew, where he speaks of judgment by “the Son of Man.” The phrase son of man has various uses in the scriptures; here, it is a title referring to Jesus himself as king and judge.2 Imagine this scene, Jesus says: at the end of the world as we know it, the Son of Man is seated on “the throne of his glory,” and arrayed before him are all the peoples of the world. Somehow, he divides them into two groups: we’ll call them the blessed and the cursed. The blessed, who stand at his right hand, he invites into God’s Kingdom. The cursed he sends to “the fire prepared for the Adversary and his messengers.”
Jesus’ One Criterion
Why are some blessed and some cursed? Is it, as Calvin taught, because the Father-God had predestined some to salvation and some to damnation? Is it because some believed correctly and others did not? Neither: Jesus has a very different, we might even say unchristian, criterion of judgment. He explains it first to the blessed ones.
Then shall the [Son of Man] say to those on his right hand, “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the reign that has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I did hunger, and you gave me to eat; I did thirst, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you received me; I was naked, and you covered me; I was infirm, and you looked after me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”3
And when he condemns the cursed to their punishment, Jesus tells them that they are being consigned to the fire because they did not do those same things.
That’s it: either you addressed the basic human needs of the Son of Man, the Offspring of Humanity, or you did not. You get no credit for believing the Bible, having Jesus as your lord and savior,4 belonging to the right religious community, holding high ideals, having spiritual or mystical experiences, etc. None at all. Jesus’ teaching is starkly other-oriented, dismissive of our narcissism, “spiritually incorrect” in being dualistic, judgmental, and conditional. One criterion determines whether we are worth being saved for God or being thrown on the burning trash heap called Gehenna: did we or did we not help the oppressed? In the end, he says, nothing else matters.
Persons, Not Beliefs
And there’s even more in the story to spark our wonder. The people of the world, being literal-minded, don’t understand the theopoetic connotation of the “Son of Man” title, so, in what is for me the most powerful and profound statement in all of scripture, Jesus spells it out for them.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungering, and we nourished you? Or thirsting, and we gave you to drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and we received you? Or naked, and we covered you? And when did we see you infirm, or in prison, and we went to you?” And he, answering, shall say to them, “Truly, inasmuch as you did for one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”
We’re quite familiar with that saying now, but when the Son of Man tells the blessed that in helping the oppressed they were helping him, the blessed are learning something new. They had not helped the oppressed because they’d believed that Christ was present in others, that “there is that of God in everyone”; clearly, they hadn’t known that at the time. They must have acted because their hearts were open to the other: when they encountered a desperate person, they felt the plight of that person and, like the “good Samaritan,”5 responded generously despite the cost to themselves. And therefore they were righteous; therefore they were blessed; therefore they were worthy of God.
Neither Faith Nor Works
Despite having the plain words of Jesus in front of them, Christians have for centuries argued “faith versus works”: am I saved simply by believing in a propitiatory sacrifice by Jesus, am I saved by doing good works, or must I exhibit both behaviors? Although his demand that we care for the poor may appear to argue for salvation by works, Jesus approves neither side in that debate, and for good reason: “What must I do to be saved?” is the wrong question, because it’s about saving me, and
Whosoever would be seeking to save his soul [psychē] shall be destroying her, and whosoever would be seeking to destroy his soul shall be nurturing her.6
In other words, the spiritual life is not about me: it’s about getting me out of the way and saving the other, the one who addresses me in her dire need, the Lazarus who lies bleeding at my gate. My life is worthwhile, says Jesus, if my solicitude is for the suffering other — if, like Jesus, I am willing to give of, even to sacrifice, myself in order that she may experience justice, peace, and mercy. It is then that I am living the divine life of love, sharing in the nature of “the event harbored in the name of God.”7 By trusting in and being faithful to that love, “that God may be all in all,” I may be saved from the living death of self-centeredness, but such salvation is a by-product: sought for its own sake, it escapes me. “In Christ Jesus, [what matters] is faith being enacted through love.”8
A Passion for the Impossible?
That’s a powerful invitation and challenge, perhaps especially for a nontheist who is not prodded by the demands nor coddled by the comforts of religion: to live in authentic and responsive relationship, to allow myself to be moved by the plight of the other, to yield again and again to empathetic and even sacrificial love. But can it be done? Is the suffering of beings not infinite? To care for the other, as Jesus demanded, as solicitously and generously as I care for myself, as if the world were about to end: is such a life not impossible?
That brings me back to Derrida, who knew the impossibility and the necessity of giving beyond calculation of cost or return. According to John D. Caputo, “‘God’ for [Derrida] is given not in theological analysis but in religious experience, in a certain passion for the impossible.”9 Perhaps Derrida, like Jesus but in his very different way, may rightly pass for passionate, but I find myself drawn out slowly and somberly by and into the pain and struggle of the world; quietly and sorrowfully inspired by, if not (yet?) aflame with, desire for justice, peace, and mercy. My “God” is given not so much in passion as in patient, halting work in the power of the impossible future, hidden like leaven in the present, which Jesus called the Kingdom of God. My faith is given not in insistence that the impossible not be the impossible, as if hope were not a house divided, but in a praxis that raises small moments of the Kingdom out of the kairos,10 the present pregnant with im/possibility, in response to real persons’ real need.
NOTES for “Judged by Jesus”
 Jacques Derrida, “Circumfession,” in Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida, pp. 154-55: “My religion about which nobody knows anything, any more than does my mother who asked other people a while ago, not daring to talk to me about it, if I still believed in God … but she must have known that the constancy of God in my life is called by other names, so that I quite rightly pass for an atheist, the omnipresence to me of what I call God in my absolved absolutely private language being neither that of an eyewitness nor that of a voice doing anything than talking to me without saying anything, nor a transcendent law nor an immanent schechina, that feminine figure of a Yahweh who remains so strange and so familiar to me ….”
 The eschatological (appearing at the end of the world) Son of Man is seen in books such as Daniel (a canonical scripture) and 1 Enoch (not generally canonical, but quoted in the canonical Letter of Jude and thought to have been influential in the primitive Christian milieu). Scholars debate whether Jesus identified himself with that apocalyptic figure, but the church has identified the two from early on. As noted, it is clear that the Son of Man represents Jesus in the judgment parable: see also Mt. 7:2-23, quoted below in note 4. And in any case, the story is Jesus’: it reflects his values.
 Mt. 25:34, based on Young’s Literal Translation. Note Young’s rendering of basileian as “reign” rather than “kingdom”; it could be that Jesus here refers not to the blessed ones simply entering a place of reward (say, a static Heaven for disembodied souls), but to their reigning with and in Christ over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). That could be seen as consistent with passages, favored by George Fox and others, such as Mt. 19:28 (“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”), 1Cor. 6:2a (“Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?”) and Eph. 2:6 (“And [God] hath raised [us] up together [with Christ], and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus”). Perhaps the Quaker business process, in which the group reaches decisions by becoming one mind and heart, exemplifies how such group rule by the saints might work.
 “[B]y their fruits you shall recognize them. Not every one saying to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ shall be entering into the Kingdom of the heavens, but [only] the ones doing the will of my father in the heavens. Many shall be saying to me in that day, ‘Lord! Lord! Have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, done many powerful deeds in your name?’ And then I shall be avowing to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from me, outlaws.'” (Mt. 7:20-23)
 See Lk. 10:29-37. The Samaritan, whose beliefs also were considered incorrect (which presumably is why Jesus uses him as an example), saved a wounded man after orthodox believers had passed him by.
 Lk. 17:33, my translation following the Concordant Greek Text Sublinear. (In the Greek, the word I have translated as “soul” is psuchen, or psychen, which is an accusative — objective — case form of psuchē or psychē. I have used the more familiar nominative form psychē in the text for clarity.) Parallel sayings, each a little different, are at Mt. 10:39, Lk. 9:24, and Jn. 12:25.
 John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God: a Theology of the Event. The phrase appears many times in the book. See for example page 294, where it is followed by this: “When I desire God or love or democracy, democracy or love or God are not what I desire, because what is desired is an unconditional event, the event or the advent of the tout autre that is astir in these names, which means the unconditional promise of the event contained in these names.” In my sentence, Caputo’s phrase is preceded by a reference to 2 Peter 1:4b: “… that by these [promises] you may be sharers of the divine nature, having escaped the destruction that is in the world because of craving.”
 “For God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God in them”: 1 Jn. 4:16. “That God may be all in all”: 1 Cor. 15:28. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails, but faith working through love”: Gal. 5:6.
 John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, pp. 288-289.
 See the post Kairos: a Meditation on a Poem by Mary Oliver, which offers a number of definitions, including this: “Kairos, which is thematically related to krisis, is extraordinary time, a time of judgment and decision, the present moment as profound opportunity.”