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.'
--Matthew 25:39-40 (NRSV)
At last we come to the end of the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and the end of this cycle of Church Year A! These last three weeks of gospel lessons have been tough ones, full of outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Proclaiming God’s word has been a weighty task for many preachers who’ve wrestled with these images of lamps and oil, talents, and now sheep and goats. Those who sit in the pews surely squirmed somewhat, too, as the words of Jesus’ address twenty-first century disciples just as readily as they did our first century forerunners.
And what’s up with this Christ the King business? Just what kind of king are we serving anyway? Jesus surely doesn’t fit the monarch mold for the Western world. In fact, he doesn’t fit the CEO mold, the CFO mold, or any other kind of mold or box we can construct in hopes of containing and managing him.
No, in fact, our king dresses in disguise and goes walking through the world in ways and places we can’t even fathom. Sometimes that makes it pretty hard to find the one we would serve. It’s much easier to serve a safe, socially acceptable king from the vantage point of a cushy Sunday morning pew in a climate-controlled sanctuary than to follow a monarch who masquerades as a beggar into the squalor of the slums.
Yet, if we would be Jesus’ disciples and stewards of God’s gracious gifts, then follow we must. We must listen and look for the Spirit’s leading and be willing to go beyond our comfort zones. There will be calls to action, nudges to go to places we normally wouldn’t think about going, and hints about how to best use our time, talents, and resources.
One of the first things we can do is shed any illusions of measurable success in the effort. Even Mother Teresa wondered about God’s presence in the midst of her lifelong service to the poor and disenfranchised. From Matthew’s gospel we hear this echoed in that even the righteous weren’t aware they had served Jesus. They were simply going about the business of daily living—both caring and doing. They were intentional in their stewardship—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, and visiting those sick and in prison. Their faith had legs, so to speak.
We don’t hear any talk about donor recognition strategies or even thanks from those served.
The emphasis seems to be on engagement and inclusion, on serving rather than strategizing, and on showing up rather than planning. We can live or loathe, justify or seek justice, and worry or walk.
Yes, the whole part about eternal punishment is disconcerting, this notion of whether one is classed as sheep or goat; however, if we’re actively serving Jesus and fully utilizing our time and talents in the work of the kingdom, do we need to worry? Seems to me as if we’d do a whole lot better to get out there in the world where Jesus walks and use our energy to share the light of Christ instead of allowing it to fuel our own fear. All it takes is one step to start the journey.
2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.
The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Lucas is a parish pastor serving the Sheyenne-Oberon Area Ministry, a four-point cooperative ministry in the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the ELCA. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. She is the mother of two wonderful daughters.