“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
Matthew’s parable of the last judgment is unique in our New Testament. We have Jesus pictured as shepherd and king and judge. Jesus is pronouncing sentence on the righteous - the sheep and the unrighteous - the goats.
Matthew’s language and the players in the parable would have been very familiar to his audience. And the separation of the sheep and goats would have made sense. In Palestine at the time it was very common to have mixed herds. During the day the sheep and goats would graze together. At night they were separated. The sheep could remain in the pasture but the goats needed more warmth.
In this time sheep were regarded as better than goats because they had a higher monetary value. So the sheep are the righteous and the goats are not!
Today we mark Christ the King Sunday which is the end of our liturgical year. Next Sunday a new year begins as we enter the season of Advent.
The end of the year is always a good time to look back. We might revisit goals or resolutions. We may look at our health and wellness - physical, mental and emotional. We may take a personal inventory of where we are and where we might like to be. It is a time to assess our strengths and our failures.
Matthew’s parable seems admirably suited to a look back.
As I sat down to write a sermon for this Sunday I was feeling a little down - a little low. I had covid so I was not feeling at my best. The weather was miserable - as November so often is. The news was worse. Wars, anger, hunger, fear and hate seem to rule the news feeds. It seems that all over the world the bad news grows and the good news fades. Here at home we are seeing a significant increase in both antisemitism and islamaphobia. People are clashing on many issues and it feels like violence is increasing - road rage ending in death, physical altercations in schools and in demonstrations. And it is not just these headlines that trouble me.
Food insecurity is affecting more and more people. Two income families are needing to turn to foodbanks to make ends meet. These are people who never thought they would need to go to a foodbank. We continue to hear that we are in a housing crisis. There are refugees and asylum seekers unable to find shelter. Climate change is impacting all of us. Our indigenous sisters and brothers continue to struggle with the generational effects of the residential school system. Racism is rampant.
So how are we doing?
When we look back over the past year, how are we doing?
It feels to me that we have many failures at our feet and in our rearview mirror.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus says you fed me when I was hungry - or you did not, you gave me something to drink when I was thirsty - or you did not. You welcomed me or you did not. You clothed me or you did not. You visited me when I was sick or in prison - or you did not.
In the parable Jesus, in the role of the king, is separating those who did what was expected of them and those who did not. Both groups are shocked by what he says. The righteous have no idea when they fed or clothed or visited or welcomed the king - Jesus. The unrighteous also have no idea when they failed to welcome or visit or clothe or fed their king, Jesus.
Jesus has come to them incognito - like an episode of the TV series, “Undercover Boss”. Jesus has come to them - to us - in disguise. Jesus has come to us in the bodies of the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the old, the young - the children. Jesus has come to the righteous and the unrighteous in the faces of those who hurt the most, need the most.
When we look into these faces, who do we see? What do we see? Are we seeing humans who need our help? Are we seeing the face of Jesus? Or are we seeing the faces of the enemy? Do we offer love or do we offer hate?
If we do not see the face of Christ in every neighbour we have failed. We have failed to do as Jesus instructed, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to care for the sick and imprisoned. This is something we cannot fail to do.
The parable is not a threat about losing salvation or eternal life. It is a warning to care for those who need care. To do it now. It is a reminder that we are all God’s children. We all need love and care and sometimes we need more.