Today Jesus invites into a vision of God’s kingdom that directly follows last week’s parable of the talents. Matthew 25: 31-46 is a call to look for the face of Jesus, even in the most unlikely of places and people.
“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.”
Last week our SS kids & several parents toured our local food pantry as they delivered 300 pounds of food we gathered as a church & over $2,000 to purchase more. I love this act of service each year, making real our commitment to being the hands and feet of Christ in this world. As long as humans have existed, so has hunger. And it’s the first person Jesus mentions in his teaching. “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” He also finds himself relating to those who lack clothes, those who are forgotten, imprisoned. In short, Jesus is on the side of those for whom life has not been kind. He invites us to see him in their faces too. “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.”
We often speak about showing Christ’s love by serving those around us in need. This is good and rewarding work. But how often does it cross your mind that the very people you are serving might actually be as close to Jesus as one can get? We believe that Jesus is present among us, even within us in some spiritual way, yes. But do we believe Jesus is within the person who is homeless, panhandling for money on a street corner? Just this weekend, driving through Sioux Falls, I noticed several men on the street corners, one with a walker. Another with a forlorn look on his face. All asking to be seen, to be noticed. And if I’m honest, that is NOT the first place I look for Christ in this world. But what if I did? What might change in all of our hearts if we truly begin to see the face of Christ as the face of someone who is hurting, smelling, angry, even mentally ill? Can we? Are we even capable?
Just last night AJ mentioned a statistic I find disturbing. For the past several years in America, it is estimated that we incarcerate more people than there are people who farm. It’s a complex issue, but suffice to say that if Jesus literally says, “I was in prison and you did not visit me,” we Christians ought to direct our attention that way. As Christians AND US Citizens, we will be wise to consider the wellbeing of both the incarcerated and an entire society that could benefit from less folks in prison and more more folks working to produce food for the hungry, maybe even themselves.
So why do the numbers keep climbing- those in prison, those hungry, those who are sick, isolated, and thirsty? Could it be that the body of Christ spends more time fracturing itself over minor differences than making any serious attempts to heed this direct word from Jesus?
When I hear it like this, I think- well, no wonder Jesus chooses some harsh language to describe the outcome of avoiding the most vulnerable among us…eternal punishment. The thing is, eternity begins today! We are meant to act NOW toward serving Christ by building up those around us, rather than tearing anyone down with false judgment or avoidance.
It’s not only other humans we are helping. It’s honoring the image of Christ in another. That’s our WHY, which permeates every single decision we make about WHO God has called us to be. We are people who SEE THE IMAGE OF GOD in another. And it sure makes avoiding another person in need more difficult, if we begin to catch a glimpse of God’s glory within them.
Leave it to Jesus to find the most unassuming places to show up. In the face of a hungry stranger. In the eyes of a weary traveler. In the feet of a homeless person. In the shackled heart of a prisoner. When we neglect to see Christ in our neighbors in need, we neglect the truth that they too belong to Christ— members of his family—just as we belong to Christ.
The parables of Jesus, as mysterious as they seem, are an invitation to see ourselves differently. To find a new perspective on the Kingdom of God. To experience Christ's presence in a new way. This week I challenge you to look a little more intently for the face of Jesus around you.
And I’ll share with you a bit of great advice I received over 20 years ago when my church youth group took a trip to Atlanta and stayed in a homeless mission for a week. It’s served me well in many an awkward situation passing alongside a homeless person or engaging with someone who is incarcerated.
Here it is: Look them in the eyes and smile. That’s it! I’m sure I don’t do it all the time, but I make an attempt each time I remember…to truly let that person know I see them. And I appreciate that we share this beautiful image of God inside us. That’s why I smile.
And it inspires to continue paving the road to the Kingdom of God wherever I find myself, even in uncomfortable situations, trusting in Jesus' words to those who dare to help the unseen people around them: Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. What a tremendous honor and challenge it is to serve the face of Christ in this world. Let us continue to stir one another toward service to all those who bear the image of Christ in the midst of their needs and pain. Amen!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.