I confess that I am having a difficult time writing these days. The negativity of the election and the negativity that has come after the election has sapped me of my writing energy. And yet, maybe this is the most important time to write. Maybe this is the most important time to read and study the Gospels and discover what Christ has to say to us.
This morning, as I write, I am aware that tomorrow (Sunday, November 20th) is Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday as it is sometimes called. This is the last Sunday of the Christian year and focuses on Christ as the one that is over all of us. It is a Sunday of judgment as the scriptures help us to think about what it is that we need to do to align our lives with Christ’s teaching. It is to help us think about whether or not we live our lives in a Christ like manner and if we don’t, it is a reminder that with Christ there is grace and repentance, in order for us to begin again to follow the Gospel teaching.
While it is not the assigned Gospel passage for this particular Christ the King year, the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 is one of the passages for other years. This passage of scripture is one that I return to over and over. It challenges me. There are days when I think that I am following the Gospel so well in my life and then Matthew 25 comes to my mind and I realize that I have been impatient with someone or I have judged someone unfairly or that I have not sought to discover Christ in each person I meet.
Even if it were not Christ the King Sunday tomorrow, I think that this Gospel passage would be present in my heart as I am trying to work my way through the negativity of the campaign and as I continue to see stories of people who are mistreated because they are different, people who are frightened, people who are suffering. Especially in Matthew 25 we are reminded that the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, the outcast are all people who bear the image of Christ. The Gospel is very clear—we are to care for those who are strangers, who are poor or hungry or sick or imprisoned or outcast simply because in doing so we are caring for Christ.
Sometimes I think that we think we are doing just what the Gospel calls us to. And yet, the very climate of our world suggests that doing this kind of ministry puts us all in danger. Maybe we are thinking: “We can’t possibly take care of all these people as if they are Christ himself. We don’t have enough money or we don’t have enough room. I will do just do the best I can.” But in this passage Jesus is speaking at the last judgment and he is not asking about the “sometimes” that we helped; he is asking about the “all of the times” that we helped.
I understand that it is not always easy to think about taking care of others, especially those that we don’t know. At the beginning of this year, I was reading one day and I realized that God was calling me to work more on loving unconditionally. I thought to myself, “OK I think I can do that just fine! I will keep working on that.” And then that very day there were four different people who came into Crosslines who needed something. These four people are the people that I have the most difficulty with. When the third person came in I realized that loving unconditionally is something that was not coming easy to me and I had to think about where Christ might be in them. What this particular day taught me is that finding Christ in all people doesn’t come as easy as we would like to think that it does. People think differently than we do. People smell differently than we do. People look differently than we do. People believe differently than we do. People make decisions and choices differently than we do. And Jesus told us to disregard all of those differences and look for the presence of Christ in each person. When we are able to find Christ in the faces of all those that we meet, we can see that which we have in common and we can see each person as precious and valuable as Jesus sees them.
Now, more than ever we need to read and understand the message of Christ in Matthew 25. Now, more than ever we need to see our fellow citizens as people that Christ loves, as people of value. Now more than ever we need to trust what Jesus said through the Gospels—that all people are loved and cherished by God, that we all fall short of the glory of God, but that there is grace for all. Now more than ever, we need to care for people and leave the judging of people to the One who judges us all and the One who judges us all calls us to treat everyone as if they are the very Christ we follow.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine you did for me.’” (from Matthew 25)
As I was thinking about Matthew 25 again this week, I stumbled across words from Dorothy Day written in December 1945, just after World War II, when the world was beginning to heal from a world war, from devastation, from the death and destruction, from the shock that millions of people could be put to death just because they were different. In these words Dorothy Day addresses the notion that it is too late for us to follow the Gospel because so much is lost. I think her words are important for us today as well:
“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.
“But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that He speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that He gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that He walks, and with heart of anyone in need that He longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ. . .
“We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with. . .
“And to those who say, aghast, that they never had a chance to do such a thing, that they lived two thousand years too late, he will say again what they had a chance of knowing all their lives, that if these things were done for the very least of His brethren they were done to Him.” (Dorothy Day, “A Room for Christ,” The Catholic Worker, December 1945).
To God be the Glory!
“Christ in Judgment”
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.