11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 25:31-46
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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And 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.’ 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.’ 44Then 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?’45Then 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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Reign of Christ by Mother Beth Matthew 25
We have come to the end of the year – the Lectionary year or Liturgical year that is. Next week we begin a brand new year with the first week of Advent. Since we are at the end of the year, now is a good time to make resolutions. What would you like to change for this new year? What would you personally like to work on?
Over the last several weeks the scripture readings have been emphasizing a sense of urgency about the return of Christ and a need to be prepared – we heard the parable of the ten bridesmaids – with oil in their lamps waiting for the return of the bridegroom and then we heard the parable of the talents – the slaves or workers waiting for the return of their master. In both instances the waiting was delayed long than expected but there was a need to be ready no matter when the return should happen.
Now today we hear another parable about the return of the King and when he comes how he will determine who has been faithful. It is very clear here that the role of judge is played by Christ alone. As much as we are tempted to suggest who is “in” and who is “out” – that is not for us to say – who deserves to be rewarded and who deserves to live in torment. And we may be prone to thinking of the person who cut us off in traffic or the one who bullied us in school. But the truth is… Only God sees the heart of someone – only God knows what they believe or what intent they have used. And that is all the more clear to me as I read this passage. The people themselves are surprised at the results!
The image we see is of Christ as Shepherd. The Ezekiel passage and the gospel both refer to this image. And we need to see all aspects of the Shepherd here – In the Ezekiel passage is emphasized the Shepherd looking out for the sheep – protecting and seeking them out. The Shepherd is the keeper of the sheep.
In Matthew’s gospel the Shepherd is separating the goats from the sheep. The sheep he refers to as blessed by his Father and these are the ones who fed him, clothed him, and welcomed him. And yet they did not realize that they had done these things. They ask, “When was it that you were thirsty or hungry? When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you? And Christ explains – when you did it to the least of these – you did it for me.
So what is the surprise for them? Are they surprised that they did not recognize Christ? Are they surprised that Christ was in those moments? Isn’t this the least likely place to see the King of Glory? And yet that is the very place that He appears. Soon we will begin looking towards that stable in Bethlehem – to the humility of the incarnation – looking towards the birth of a baby – a baby who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Because the beauty of the manger is that Jesus is born in the least likely place to the least likely people and he is the same King of Glory – the Son of Man that we hear about today in this passage. The baby does not become these things – he does not grow up to become great. No, he is the divine son of God right from the beginning of time – “God of God, Light of Light, begotten not created”
So is it that surprising that we should find him out with those who are in need of food, clothing and welcome?
Matthew has been revealing this about Christ throughout his whole gospel. We struggled more than once in this year with the Beatitudes and how in Matthew 5 we have this list of who God called blessed – those who mourn, those who are peacemakers, those who are poor, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
So it should be no surprise that to serve these people is to serve Christ – to feed and clothe and welcome them is to do these things for him. And yet I think there is more to this parable than just the idea that if we need to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.
We hear again an urgency about reassessing our priorities and I suspect it is not just about getting things right for eternity. The idea is that we are missing out on these moments of ministering to Christ while we are here on this earth. That in keeping our eyes on the end game – and assuming that we are all set to get to Heaven is to miss out on what we should be doing in the meantime – while we are still here on earth. That our lives should be impacted not just for ourselves – and making sure that we are going to get into heaven but that we should be looking to the welfare of others.
That true love of God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is made manifest is my love for neighbor – loving them as I would love myself.
And I suspect that is what makes the difference in these two instances – that the deciding factor is not just whether you helped the poor and the homeless but whether you and I are able to do that from a place of love – love of God and love of neighbor. It is not about doing things to feel better about yourself or doing things so that you or I can justify our own lifestyles and relieve our own guilt – you’ve seen the commercials that play up the emotion of the situation. I believe there is a lot of that kind of motivation going around. It is not about helping others in the spirit of Christmas or in response to an inspirational movie. But truly letting the love of God permeate our whole being so that whatever we do we do as onto Christ himself.
Most importantly about this passage I think is that we are invited to see God in the here and now not just in some far away hope or dream of what might be. We are encouraged to see the face of Christ and to see Him in all the least expected places. We are reminded that God is Emmanuel – God with us – right here in the midst of us. And so as we prepare to begin the Advent of the Christ, we are expectant and hopeful. God is not a long way off – looking down on us – waiting to discipline us but rather He is here among us – even among the least of us and each day we can faithfully worship him in love and service to others. May we take this opportunity at the beginning of a new church year to refocus and reassess – may we seek out Christ in all the places that we frequent. May we see His face in all of those around us – ministering to them out of His love and compassion.