Let’ admit it, Jesus is much easier to see in some people than he is in others.
I got to know David while I was serving in my last congregation. Some would have said that he was a bit odd and hard to approach. He would amaze me though as I would see him out in the flower beds of the church cleaning them out, or sweeping the walnuts from the parking lot. Half of the time, he would be using crutches to assist his movement. He would come into the office and let me know that he had a box or bag of food that he would like us to donate to the food pantry, or he would simply give us money to support the pantry. David was not a member of my congregation, but lived in the Samaritas Senior Living Apartments located directly behind the church.
It is easy to see Jesus in the people that give freely of their time and talents without expecting anything in return. Do we choose to see Jesus in the people that come asking for money or get in line at the soup kitchen?
This is where we run into trouble in the gospel text. Jesus continues to share with the disciples what the kingdom of heaven is going to look like. This is the last story that he will share with his disciples before they sit down together for the Passover meal and his arrest and execution on the cross.
Once again, hard words to hear, coming from the one that we now know is suppose to be the Messiah. We do not have the opportunity to hear what the disciples response is to this last story. I have a feeling that their response is probably not too different from ours. The judgement talk seems to be a little different from the Jesus we know that would sit down with sinners, tax collectors, the sick and outcasts of society. There are also some inklings of the idea that there is a tinge of works righteousness present. Do we really have to treat everyone the way Jesus describes? What about grace? The judgement here seems to tell us otherwise.
As we come to the last Sunday of the church year, Matthew has taken us on quite the arch this past year. We have walked through a gospel that brings us the good news of Jesus’ birth and his ministry with the disciples. We have heard of the miracles that he performed, and the openness that he showed to all that came to him.
While we listen to Matthew’s gospel, we also get caught up in our own stories. Our lives have pulled us this way and that way during the past year and we at times forget the gospel good news that we hear residing in the words of Jesus. The more that we forget the words of Jesus, the more self-centered we become and can be seen as naval-gazers. As we turn the attention to ourselves and our own little world around us, we become critical and judgmental of the other. Especially those that we do not understand. We become fearful and thus seclude ourselves even further.
We do not see Jesus in our midst, because we fail to look. We look beyond the opportunities to reach out an outstretched hand to help someone up. We walk past the beggar sitting or standing on the sidewalk. We cannot wait until the light changes so that we do not have to look at the person standing on the corner looking for any type of assistance.
We build walls instead of opening gates of welcome for those that are being persecuted and oppressed.
In the judgement that Jesus speaks of, there is both blessing and punishment. The blessing that is encountered comes in the form of those that reach out and quench the thirst of those feeling parched, feed those that have hunger pains, gave someone the shirt off their back, welcomed in the stranger, took care of the sick, and visited the imprisoned. We read that the punishment comes to those that do none of this.
In this, the grace of God is at work. How can that be, you are probably thinking. Jesus is not going to condemn us to a life in hell. We do that ourselves! God is present in all places, even when we feel that we are encountering hell here on earth.
Jesus uses this last story as a wellness check. It is an opportunity for the disciples to prepare themselves for the ministry that is laying ahead of them once Jesus has died. He will be resurrected, yet they will be empowered to go out and begin proclaiming the gospel good news of Christ. In this wellness check, they are brought to question their own roles and if they are living out the faith that Jesus has instilled in them during the last three years. Are they ready to quench the thirst of the the thirsty, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit and even possibly be imprisoned themselves?
The grace of God works throughout their living out the gospel that Jesus has bestowed upon them. In this grace, Jesus is holding them accountable to his teaching.
It is a good thing to be held accountable. We are able to accomplish much more when we are working towards a common purpose or goal. When others know what we are hoping to achieve, they can stand by and cheer us on and possibly even help us change course when we have been blown in the wrong direction.
We should not have to ask, “when was it…” or “when did I… .” Our faith is not met to be stagnant. From the time we are born to the time we reach the end of our lives, our faith ebbs and flows. In our struggles and challenges, we are tested, and also reassured by the love of God. How we care for those around us and if we reach out to those hurting and in need, is a reflection of our faith. We should not have to ask, “when did we… ,” because we should be living out the gospel truth that is taught to us in Jesus Christ everyday.
David Lose, in his weekly blog, refers to this call from Jesus to care for the least of these as a third sacrament. It is called for by Jesus himself, and God is present in the midst of it. How incredible would it be if we were to care for others in this manner and treat it as a sacrament as we do baptism and communion?
Our love for our sisters and brothers should be no different than our love for that new iPhone or that new car. Richard Rohr says, “How you love God is how you love everything. And how you love everything is how you love God.” God is present within you at all times. Are you loving God and sharing that love with all around you, or are you choosing to be judgmental when that is not your place?
It is tough. I am sure you can find yourself on both sides depending on the day. It is the reminder of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever that we find grace that is never ending and a hope that moves us beyond despair.
Let us pray…Ever present God, be with us in our earthly journey as we try to live out the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ. When we falter, pick us up. When we reach out in love, rejoice. May the Holy Spirit guide us in our days as we try our hardest to do your will and love the least of these. Amen.