Two very distinct pictures of Jesus emerge from this parable.
One of glory; one of neediness. We love the former. The latter is
troubling, and like the sheep and goats we wonder when, Lord,
did we see you thus?


 

"When the Son of Man comes, and all the holy angels with Him,
He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be
gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from
another as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats, the
sheep on His right hand but the goats on the left.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you
blessed of 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; I was a
stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came
to Me.'

"The righteous will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry
and feed you, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see
You a stranger, or naked? When did we see You sick, or in
prison and come to You?' The King will answer, 'Assuredly,
inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My
brethren, you did it to Me.'

"Then He will say to those on the left, 'Depart from Me, you
cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his
angels,for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was
thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you
did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and
in prison and you did not visit Me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or
thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not
minister to You?' He will answer them, 'Assuredly, inasmuch
as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not
do it to Me.' These will go away into everlasting punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life."

                                                      Matthew 25:31-46 NKJV, condensed  


                                     God Without a Halo

An unhappy boy ran away from home one summer morning. He
took with him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a can of soda,
and two cookies. As he headed out of town he saw an old woman
sitting on a park bench. She looked just as sad as he felt, so he sat
down beside her to rest awhile before going on.

The boy told the old woman he was running away from home, and
she listened to his story. When they shifted to a nearby shaded
bench, she told him she was running away, too. They shared the
peanut butter and jelly lunch and talked into the afternoon. By the
time the sun came around to find them again, they both decided
they no longer needed to run away. So each bid their new friend
goodbye. As the boy headed in one direction and the woman
followed an opposite street, they turned back several times and
waved playfully.

When the boy arrived home he told his dad he had shared his
lunch with God and that God has the kindest face, big ears, and is
very old. The old woman told her daughter she, too, spent the
day with God, and that God has the most wonderful smile, but
is much younger than she thought he would be.

I remember many years ago attending worship at The Church
of our Savior in Washington, D.C. on New Year's weekend. In
Gordon Crosby's sermon that morning he asked, "Do you know
anyone who is hungry today or in need of cool, clean water? Do
you know someone who is shivering in the cold? Do you know
anyone without a home for the night? Or someone who is sick, or
in jail?" Then he challenged the congregation in the coming year
to go out where they are and get to know some of these people!

This text is the last teaching before his death by crucifixion as a
common criminal. So what did Jesus talk about? He told a story
about the coming of the Son of Man, angels with him, a glorious
throne, people of all nations gathered before him, deciding with
just a word from his mouth and the swing of his arm who would
inherit the kingdom and who would be excluded. Then, as now,
believers liked this powerful image. We are eager to stand by his
side, join the army of his angels and do his bidding.

But then a surprise! When the Son of Man comes to judge the
earth we will discover he's been with us every day in the form of
all those people we passed by without looking at them because
they made us feel uncomfortable! He came to us in the poor and
unfortunate members of our society, in the hungry and thirsty
ones, and those without sufficient clothing to keep themselves
warm. He was the stranger on our street, he was sick and unable
to care for himself, he was imprisoned in our jails.

We notice a recurring theme in these last three parables. It seems
we have a God who is on a distant journey, off in some far country,
taking his time returning, hiding somewhere out there in the
darkness. By faith we recognize the footprints of God's presence.
Through deeds of compassion, sharing and generosity we find
him, not up in the sky, but right under our noses.

Providing food and hospitality, care for the wounded, friendship
for the lonely, justice for prisoners--there's nothing grandiose
about these things. People don't line up for a chance to respect
and protect the dignity of those humbled by adversity. Rare is
the moment when we ever consider entering into relationship
with them. Yet in this text Jesus taught us that by shedding the
light of kindness and mercy into a dark corner, we minister
unto him.

Immanuel means "God With Us." We use the word during the
Christmas holidays, proclaiming the birth of Jesus. This parable
gives Immanuel a new twist. It's not a short-lived seasonal word,
but an active lifelong covenant. Immanuel, God With Us,
disguised in the form of anyone who needs a generous dose
of compassion.

Lord, when did we see you hungry. . . ? The sheep and goats
asked the same question? The goats, had they known it was the
king, would have assisted him. For the sheep, doing the Christlike
thing was second nature and they didn't even remember doing it.

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: Eric Bazilian asked in a song, "What if God was one of
us...just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home...back up
to heaven all alone?" He questioned further whether God looks like
a slob like the rest of us!
            Are you offended by such lyrics?
            Or are they pertinent to this parable?

 

Share from your own experience when you were hungry, or thirsty,
in need of clothing, or a stranger, sick or in prison.
            Did anyone come to your aid?
            If so, who was it and why did they help you?

 

Also, share from your own experience one time when you sacrificed
your own comfort and desires in order to --give food, drink or
clothing to a needy person, --visit someone who was sick or in
prison, or --welcome a stranger.
            How do you feel about Jesus establishing these actions as a
                        standard for inheriting his Father's kingdom?
            Are these deeds easy or difficult for you?   Explain your answer.
Describe the person who, in your mind, best exemplifies Christlike
compassion?

 

React to the following quote by Edwine Gateley:  "I came to understand
that, one way or another, we are all broken. We must simply be where
we are called to be and do the best we can, and leave the rest to God.
The fruit is God's business; ours the labor and the call to faithfulness. So
I ended up having to let go of my dreams, my hopes, my plans, my longing
to save and heal. All I could really do was love. And so I loved. Fiercely."
           
Which words in this statement stand out most in your mind?
            How does an attitude of brokenness help you minister to
                    someone else?
            What does it mean to give up your hopes/plans and simply love?
            When have you loved fiercely, because there was nothing else
                    you could do?

 

It's a challenge to understand how Jesus can be our future reigning
Lord and also stake his identify in today's world with a homeless family
living in their car.
            How do you see these two extremes complementing each other?
            In what way is this parable a wakeup call?
            Is anybody listening!

 

Immanuel--God With Us. Describe the last time you recognized God
walking in your midst, or you prayed the prayer, "Thank You, Jesus."?
            What words would you use to describe what God looks like?

 

We recognize Jesus in the lofty doctrines of the church and in the beauty
of a stained glass window with a halo hovering over his head. But how
would our lives be different if we really believed that Jesus, without a
halo, lives in the most needy and least powerful people among us?
            How would the concept we have of God need to be revised?
            What attitudes and actions on our part would need to change?

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