Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
OK, this is maybe not the best lesson to read for Lauri (our Community Compassion Director) right now. It is actually the lesson that I want to bring to our faithful “Christian” County Commissioners as a devotional. Jesus couldn’t be much clearer on this. “The poor” according to Mother Theresa, “Are Jesus in his most cleaver disguise.” On a more personal level, this is THE story of Jesus that gives me nightmares.
I can picture the scene. Jesus is going through the nations of the earth at the last judgment. We’re brought up alphabetically, so we are near the end. We approach with eager anticipation. Here we are the wonderful nation of good Christian people! And the hammer comes down. “I gave you so much, blessed you so richly, and you let people sleep on sidewalks? What his wrong with you people?” In my nightmare, guess which shoot we go down, us goats?
But that probably won’t happen. Why? Because everyone is surprised. (Of course, now that I think it won’t it just might . . . ) The sheep who’ve been caring for Jesus all along are surprised, the goats who have been systematically ignoring him are surprised. God seems to love surprises. And guilt is not really that effective of a motivational tool anyway. So, what do we do? And I believe we need to start doing something.
Lauri? Maybe we could all take turns sleeping in one of the tents out back just to see what it’s like? A few hours in a cold tent might cause us to rearrange our priorities a bit. There is no meal offered on Thursday nights, maybe we are called to take up the slack? Or, maybe that is not the direction this story is leading us.
THE very next story in the Gospel is Jesus being anointed with a very expensive perfume. He responds to the disciples grousing by saying they will have the poor with them forever (that does not seem very encouraging). Then he’s off to the last supper, the garden and the rest of Holy Week. This is the final story he tells his disciples in Matthew’s gospel.
It is our challenge during the season of Lent to reflect on the life and death of Jesus. The hopeful result of that reflection is an outlook that is more like that of Jesus. As a Lutheran, I do not believe that I can change very much by setting my mind to it. I really need the Holy Spirit to help and guide me in all that I do. What is needed, I think, is to let go. Let go of all we think is so central, so important, and allow God to move in our lives. That movement will draw us closer to those who are poor, hungry, cold and in prison. But you don’t need to go looking for them, they’re living on our back parking lot, and we know them by name. Maybe we can start by listening to a story or two and see where that leads us.
Quotes for the Week
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” Stephen Colbert
“I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful—collecting these shards of spirituality—that we may be helping to bring about a healing” Leonard Nimoy aka “Live long and prosper” Spock
“Here are the values that I stand for: honest, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.” Ellen DeGeneres
“The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into” Shane Clairborne
Lesson: Matthew 25:31-46 (The Message)
31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”
Questions for the Week
Does this parable of Jesus get under your skin? Why, or why not?
Where have you seen Jesus lately (in the context of this parable)?
What is one, small step you might take in light of this story?