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. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then 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; 35 for 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, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 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? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 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.’ 41 Then 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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I 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.’ 44 Then 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?’ 45 Then 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
A couple of weeks ago, my good friend, Pastor John Weisenburger, put out a plea on Facebook. There was a family, which included 5 children, in our community that was facing eviction if they didn’t come up with $2,000 within about 3 days or so. Pastor John called all the agency. All the places meant to help in a situation like this, and there was little they could do. So he turned to Facebook. And within those 3 days, he had people driving into his driveway and handing him a $100 bill. People calling up and saying what they could give. In fact, Aurora gave $200 from our local aid fund. In the end, he came up with the $2,000 for this family. The eviction notice was lifted, those kids got to stay in their own beds that night, and the family is able to pay their rent now going forward.
Jesus said to the sheep, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for 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, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” Or in this situation, I was about to be evicted and you covered my bill. So, John Weisenburger is a sheep! He went out of his way, gave up a whole weekend day gathering up enough money so this family wouldn’t be evicted out into the cold winter.
But then, a couple days later, John was out late at night walking his dog, when she pulled him over to this car on the street. John couldn’t figure out what she was so interested in with this car…until he looked inside and saw some people sleeping in it. It just so happens that their car was right out side one of our shelters in town, which meant the shelters were full. And what did John do? Nothing. Unsure of what to do and with a heavy heart, he went home to his warm house.
And Jesus said to the goats, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I 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.’ Or in this situation, I was homeless, and you gave me no place to rest my head.
So, John is a goat. For he saw people in need, had plenty of beds in his home to host them, but didn’t.
Now, I have permission from John to share these stories. In fact, he’s sharing them in his sermon today. And it is not meant to praise John or to judge him. But rather it is to reflect the complexity of this parable. Because according to the parable, at one moment John was inheriting the kingdom of God for the good work he did. And then the next, he was being sent away into the eternal fire prepared for the devil for the work he didn’t do.
And we all start to squirm. Because we all can think of a time when we were brave and generous and giving to someone in need, and we all can think of a time when we weren’t. Who hasn’t ignored someone in need before. Whether it be someone sleeping in their car. Or a stranger asking for financial help, and we lie to them say that we have nothing to give.
In the end, we are all sheep and goats, aren’t we? And so what are we supposed to do with this parable? Are we supposed to use it as spiritual ruler that we can hold up to ourselves and others to see if we have measured up enough to get into heaven? Should we use it as a spiritual checklist, where all you need is a hungry person, a thirsty person, a stranger, a naked person, and someone who is sick and in prison. And you make sure that you feed the hungry one, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, raid your closet for an old sweater or something to give to the naked one, and a give up an hour or two of your time to go visit the one who is sick and in prison. And then you’re good to go. Is that how it works? To make sure you’ve got your Christian checklist checked off?
Anyone who knows me or who has listen to any sermon I have preached, knows that I am big fan of this thing called grace (meaning the unconditional love of God that is free and forever and for all). It is foundational to our Lutheran-ness that we are not saved or loved because of the good we do, but rather we are saved and loved only by the gracious and free gift of God. But then Matthew comes along and seemingly destroys all of that saying, “You better be sheep or you will face eternal punishment.”
What a pain Matthew is. Because if that is true, if it is fully dependent on you to be a good enough sheep to get into Heaven, then who needs Jesus? If we’re the ones who need to pass some spiritual test, then Jesus is just the teacher who grades it and not the one who saves us from the test itself.
And so I just simply cannot accept that this parable is about what Christians must do to be saved. But then it dawns on me. What if we have spent all this time, looking in the wrong direction with this parable. But maybe the problem is we’ve got our eyes focused in the wrong place. You see, most of us hear this parable and we try to find where we fit into the story – are we a sheep or a goat. When maybe what we are asked is not to notice where we fit into the story but to notice where Jesus fits into the story. To look for where Jesus is.
Most of us tend to think that Jesus shows up in the one who does the right thing – the one who feeds the hungry, the one who clothes the naked. Right? We ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then we try to do that because we are trying to be like Jesus. We think that is where Jesus shows up – in the helpers. But did you notice what Jesus said to the sheep? Jesus doesn’t say, “When you fed someone who was hungry, you did what I would do.” No, Jesus says, “When you fed someone who was hungry, you fed me. When you clothed the naked, you clothed me. When you visited those in prison, you visited me.” Jesus doesn’t come as the one who helps; Jesus comes as the one who is in need of help.
And that is the great surprise of this parable. That Jesus shows up not in the helper but in the one needing help. Jesus is the hungry one. Jesus is the thirsty one. If you want to find Jesus, that’s where he is. But both the sheep and the goats got that one wrong on the test. Did you notice that both groups – the sheep and the goats – were surprised? Not by which group they ended up in. But both the sheep and the goats were surprised by the mistake that they both made – both groups failed to recognize the face of Jesus in those who are most in need. The sheep say, “When did we feed you or give you something to drink?” And Jesus says, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” And the goats says, “When didn’t we feed you or give you something to drink?” And Jesus says, ‘When you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Friends, when we help someone in need, we don’t do it because we think it is what Jesus would do. Or that in helping this person, we are somehow bringing Jesus to them. We help someone in need because when we do, we help Jesus. When we go to feed hungry people at Meals of Hope next week, Jesus isn’t the one serving the food. He is the one standing in line waiting for it. We don’t feed the hungry so we can bring Jesus to them, but rather because they bring Jesus to us. We do it because Jesus promises to be with those who are hungry. And so we go to help at Meals of Hope, because that’s where Jesus already is.
And so on this Christ the King Sunday we become witnesses to the promises that Christ as king is like no other king we’ve ever known. The parable begins saying, “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.” But then the parable twists and Jesus says that he is the one who is hungry. He is the one who is thirsty. He is the one who is naked or imprisoned. Some king, huh? You see, Jesus comes as the hidden king. As a king that we don’t recognize. Hidden not among those with power and authority, but among the weak and the vulnerable.
So if we claim Jesus as our king, and if kings are who we give our allegiance and our loyalty to, then we are called to give our allegiance and our loyalty to those who are most vulnerable in our community. To find Christ the king hidden there, and not in some palace. You see, Jesus the king will be found hidden among the family about to be evicted from their home. Or the couple huddled together in their car at night. That’s where Jesus the king will be found.
As many of you know, especially this week, our country is deep into this immigration debate, about how to handle 11 million undocumented immigrants. And I know some of us are pleased with the actions the President has taken and some of us can’t even stomach it. But regardless of what side we are on or what we think about the President’s decision, I think both sides are asking the wrong question. I don’t think the first question should be what is best for our country. The question shouldn’t be what’s practical and easiest. The question shouldn’t be whether they are taking our jobs and getting a free ride on American tax dollars. The first question we should be asking is, “Do we see the face of Jesus in them? Do we see Christ the hidden king among our immigrant population?” To ask the questions, what would we do if it was Jesus climbing over our boarder fence? Or if it was Jesus living in hiding, waiting for the day when the police will show up to deport him?
Does that make the decisions of what to do any easier? No. But if we started with that question – do we see the face of Jesus among them? – maybe it would change the whole tone of the debate. Because at least according to this parable, that is exactly where Jesus will be found. When you welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me, Jesus says. Jesus is the undocumented immigrant. The homeless man. The desperate one looking for a job. The addict in need of rehab. The question is do we see them as Jesus. This isn’t about you getting into heaven. This is about God’s loyalty and God’s primary concern being with those in need.
I once heard this short story: Someone once asked a mother which of her children she loved the most. The mother, of course, said, “All of them. I love them all the same.” But the person pressed her and said, “No really, which one do you love the most?” To which the mother said, “Okay, which one do I love the most? Whichever one is hurting more. I love that one just a little bit more.”
In the end, I don’t think this parable is about finding yourself and knowing whether you are a sheep or a goat. You’re both. There. Now you know. And guess what -both of them make the same mistake – they don’t recognize Jesus. And that is what the whole thing is about – finding Jesus. Out there. In the world. In flesh and blood. In the least of these. And those most in need.
And so that is my challenge to all of us this week. To go out in search of Christ the Hidden King. The one who will be found among whoever is hurting the most. Look for Jesus in the face of everyone you encounter this week. Let’s all start from that place. And see what happens.
May we have eyes to see. Amen.