The holy gospel according to Matthew.
Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] “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. 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, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 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; 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, 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.’ 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 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.’ 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’ 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?’ 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes when we read scripture, something jumps out at us that we don’t remember seeing before. That happened with today’s gospel as I was reading through it. What jumped out at me was Jesus called those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked or prisoners members of his family. Whenever the people being judged did or didn’t do something for the a member of his family, they did or didn’t do it to him. In my head, this sounded like a movie script about the mafia.
Picture this, the scene is an Italian restaurant. There’s some cigar smoke in the air and Big Tony is eating some spaghetti with several of his henchmen. Big Tony says to of them, “Hey, go bring in Gianni.” One of them goes and brings in Gianni who is clearly looking nervous. Big Tony says, “Gianni, ease up my friend. I just want to show my appreciation for what you did for me by making you the vice president at my Cadillac dealership. And, you can have any car on the lot to drive.”
Gianni replies, “Um, thank you Big Tony, but what did I do deserve this?”
“You remember last week when you helped a guy out whose car had broken down on the Brooklyn Bridge?”
It’s my understanding that you do that kind of thing all the time, helping others and giving of your time. Well that guy you helped this time happens to be my cousin, Vinnie. When you help out a member of my family, it’s the same as helping me. Go enjoy your new job.”
Gianni leaves, overjoyed at his fortune for just trying to be a good guy. Big Tony then tells his henchmen to bring in Franco. Franco comes in all swaggering and dressed in fine clothes. Franco says, “ Hey, Big Tony, what’s up?” as if they’re buddies.
Big Tony replies, “Hey, I wouldn’t be so happy go lucky if I was you. I got a bone to pick. Remember last week when you was bragging about running some guy off his lane leaving him stranded on the Brooklyn Bridge?”
“Yeah, ha, ha. What a schmuck.”
“Oh yeah? Well that schmuck just happens to be my cousin, Vinny. I hear you do that kind of thing all the time, never thinking about anyone but yourself, but when you do something like that to a member of my family It’s like you’re doin’ it to me.”
“Shaddup. You’re through, Franco. Your fired from your cushy job at the dealership and I’m evicting you from my apartment building. If I was you, I’d leave town. I wouldn’t go to Chicago or Vegas either because I’ve got family there too. Get him outa here.”
Not exactly a perfect retelling of Jesus’ parable, but it’s what ran through my head. What you do for a member of my family, you do for me. It’s easy to think of this parable as a threat to do good. You better take care of these people without any means or you’re going to end up in eternal punishment. God is watching you, don’t screw up.
That can sound a little harsh, but I think that this is more a parable about grace than it is about judgment. Look at who Jesus is identifying with in the parable. He is naming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner as members of his family.
Today is Christ the King Sunday where we lift Jesus up as our Heavenly King. In our music we sing of his power and might and how great he is, all of which is even more true than we can understand. But he is not king like other kings or rulers. He does not sit in luxury getting driven around in monstrous cars with multiple support vehicles. He doesn’t send his generals out to do battle while at best, he watches from the sidelines. He does’t hobnob with only the brightest and the best of the world.
No, He comes down and walks among the common folk. He conquers his enemies through love and mercy and offering himself as a sacrifice. He hobnobs with the lowest of the low and calls them family. He identifies with those who are commonly looked down upon.
This is not a new thing for him either. Way back in the book of Genesis he picks a wandering shepherd, Abraham, and blesses him so that he might be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Not just his own family, but ALL the families.
He took a refugee murderer with a speech impediment named Moses and used him to free his people from Egypt and give them the Law. One of those laws was, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” (Deut. 15:11)
He took two women, one a foreign harlot named Rahab and the other, a Moabite widow named Ruth and made them ancestors of King David and of Jesus himself.
Jumping ahead past lots more examples to the New Testament, Jesus took a ragtag band of fisherman, tax collectors and Zealots and formed them into a group who would change the world.
Again and again God took someone from the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder and used them for great things. God has always identified with the lowly.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In another discussion Jesus is asked who one’s neighbor is. He replies with the story of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor is the lowly and hated Samaritan, not the well off and respected Jewish leaders.
God hasn’t changed over the years. He still identifies with the despised and rejected people. He calls them family. He call us family too. Through the water and the word we are baptized into his life, death, and resurrection. We are, in essence, joined into God’s family. The Apostle Paul said, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” If God calls the weak and lowly family, and he also calls us family, that means that we are all part of the same family. If we are part of the same family, then what blesses them also blesses us. What hurts them also blesses us. Family takes care of family.
Next week we start the the church calendar over again with the season of Advent. There will be lots of readings about the coming of Christ, both those alluding to his birth and those alluding to his second coming. This is good, that’s why we dedicate a whole season of the church year to it. But maybe while we’re going through it this year we could remember these words of Rev. Dr. David Lose, “God’s manifestation and presence is not some mountain-top experience or the result of an arduous spiritual journey but (is) instead connected to actual, physical bodies and circumstances. Want to see Jesus? Look to the needs of your neighbor and, especially, your most vulnerable neighbors.” End quote.
We are all part of a family, God’s family. The head of our family is King of the universe and servant to his people, willing to die for them. As such we have a responsibility to be like Gianni, serving others and helping each other out, especially those members of the family that God holds especially dear, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. In doing so, we are helping Jesus, looking him in the eye, touching his skin.
When I end my sermons I always say the same thing, “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” As I reflect on that now, I see that that small prayer has a dual meaning for me and hopefully for you. Not only does it mean that I am asking Jesus to return as he has promised to do, but if by serving those whom he considers a part of his family I am also serving him, then I am asking him to put in my path those people through whom I can experience his presence.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.