Christ is King, Matthew 25:31-46, Nov. 20, 2011, Christ the King A
31 “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. 32 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, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 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; 35 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, 36 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.’ 37 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? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 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.’ 41 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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’ 44 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?’ 45 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Christ is King (is mean is)
I do not usually tell jokes in sermons, but from time to time, one makes a point better than anything, and this is one of those times. The joke comes from the time of Yugoslavia, before it broke apart. It comes during the time the country was ruled by the Communist strong man, General Tito. The setting is a prison cell with numerous inmates. The guard opens the door and shoves in a new convict. He immediately starts shouting, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” Finally another prisoner interrupts him, “What’s not fair?” He says “I got ten years!” “For what?” the other asks.” “For nothing!” he replies. “O, that is unfair,” says the other prisoner, “usually for nothing, you only get five years.”
When doing nothing is criminal
In a totalitarian state, doing nothing can be a crime if someone simply wants to punish you. But are there times when doing nothing really is criminal?
How about the recent revelations about what happened at Penn. State? Doing nothing when a child is being molested is a serious problem. In fact, doing nothing in the face of suffering is what the priest and the Levite did in the parable of the Good Samaritan; they just walked on by, refusing to be a “neighbor.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength” so says the first and greatest commandment, and the second, Jesus said, is like it, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Nobody ever “walks on by” themselves. We tend to get pretty insistent on finding solutions to our personal needs, when we feel hungry, or thirsty, cold, or whatever. We never just “do nothing,” when we suffer. So, we are called to respond to our neighbor’s needs with the same determination.
The do-nothing goats
Jesus just told a story, a parable, about the separation of the righteous and the unrighteous by the King at the end of time. In the parable the King is a shepherd, the separation is of the sheep and the goats.
What did the goats do that was wrong? They did nothing. They were not guilty of actively sinning: they did not worship idols, forget the Sabbath, dishonor their fathers or mothers, kill, commit adultery, or steal. They simply failed to respond when they saw people suffering. They did nothing.
42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’
The happy sheep
The sheep, on the other hand, were the ones who responded to the needs around them. They responded when they saw hunger, when they saw thirst, when they saw deprivation and oppression.
I believe that the people represented by the sheep, had not been looking for a reward. They were not looking over their shoulders to see if anyone was noticing how much they were spending on emergency food, bottled water and clothing for the ones they helped. They were not expecting a pat on the back, or even trying to coerce God into a blessing-in-kind.
In fact they were surprised that anyone noticed at all. They say,
‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
Then, the Shepherd-king at the end of the ages will say to them,
40 ‘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.’
I’m sure the sheep were happy hear him say to them,
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
But I think they were already happy. It is a one of those remarkable, wonderful facts of life, that serving, that responding to needs, that being the Good Samaritan does not diminish us, it gives us joy. The old saying is true, “Goodness is its own reward.”
It is the misers who are miserable. It is the ones whose evil eye is constantly making comparisons with their neighbor’s wealth who are unhappy. It is those who do nothing good, like the goats, that feel nothing good in the end.
But, people who look at other people with “Jesus eyes” and who stop what they are doing, and go over and minister to the pain they see are the ones who know what Saint Francis taught: “it is in giving that we receive.” The greatest irony is that when we feel someone else’s pain, and respond, we end feeling joy. God made us that way.
On not seeing Jesus
This parable calls us to an entire lifestyle of caring and compassion. This year as I read this parable I realized that I had always read this in way that makes it say almost the opposite
of what actually it says. I have always thought that this parable teaches us to look at people in need, to look at the “least of these” and to see Jesus.
But the odd thing is that nobody sees Jesus – neither the sheep nor the goats. They are both equally surprised that Jesus was in their story at all.
The sheep, in this parable, did not feed the hungry because they saw them as Jesus; they fed the hungry because as sheep of the Good Shepherd, they had adopted his way of living. His agenda had become their agenda. His perspective on suffering and pain was now their perspective. His values had become their values. They did not need to “see Jesus in the faces of the poor.” Rather, they saw the poor; and they responded as Jesus did. And he took it personally. He always takes it personally.
Christ, the complex King
This is Christ the King Sunday, the ending culmination of the Christian year. Next week Advent begins, and a fresh new year will start. We end the year with Christ the King Sunday, celebrating a truth that is as complex as it gets. The Christ, who is the King, who gets to make the final, ultimate decisions, is a shepherd-king. The king in Jesus’ parable has the scent of the sheep-fold in his clothing.
In the parable that Jesus tells of the Great King at the End of Time, the king is not sitting on a gilded throne, obsessing about his power over people. Rather he is there, with his sheep, thinking about their care for each other. We could say, he is not the king of coercion, but the king of compassion. And soon, he will be the shepherd-king who lays down his own life for his sheep.
“Is” means “is”
Let us be clear. We are never asked to “accept” Jesus as king. We are never told to “invite Jesus to be our king.” Jesus is King, already, and “is” means “is.” He is the one whose agenda matters. He is the one whose perspective matters. He is the one whose values matter. As the scripture tells us, “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psa. 97:2)
Doing nothing in his kingdom is considered unrighteousness. Doing nothing is counted as injustice. Just ask the goats. As the King who is King, he is not coercing us to be compassionate. These are the days of our freely chosen lifestyles of doing nothing or something. But King means King, and in the end, there will be consequences. This parable is as ominous as it is inviting.
Let us hear the invitation, the call to embrace the King who is King! Let us embrace his compassionate, responsive, self-giving lifestyle, and let us live in the happy joy of those whose lives have made a difference in the world.
On this Sunday of the dedication of our stewardship commitments of our lives, our hours, our abilities, and our wealth, let these be the expression of our thankfulness that we bring to our Shepherd-King. Let these offerings be the index of our faith and the measure of our joy and our response to his call.