“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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing, and when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:37-40)
This Sunday is the feast of ‘Christ the King’ – the last Sunday of the year in the official church calendar. Next week marks the beginning of ‘Advent’ (a word taken from the Latin, ‘advenio’, meaning ‘coming towards’). The focus for the next few weeks will be on the coming of Christ into the world. Christmas is looming.
I appreciate that not all of us are into celebrating Holy Days, but the feast of ‘Christ the King’ is an interesting one. Pope Pius IX proclaimed this feast day in 1925, in the middle of the period between the two World Wars. Around the globe, people were still counting their dead after the Great War. Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler was coming to power in Germany and threatening to plunge the planet back into darkness. It was a volatile period in human history, not unlike our own. Pius thought it was a good time to remind people of who was really in charge,
Our Gospel reading today depicts Jesus as a king. It’s a description of the final judgement. Jesus comes back to judge the world, and all the nations are gathered before Him. He separates them individually, one from another, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). The ‘sheep’ are rewarded – “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). The ‘goats’, conversely, are cast into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41).
It’s a disturbing scene in many ways, and perhaps the most disturbing part of it is that none of the people being judged understand how they came to be classified as either sheep or goats. The sheep are told that when Jesus was hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned, they were there for Him, but they think there’s been a mistake. The goats are told, conversely, that they refused to help Jesus when he was in trouble. They are equally confused. The surprising explanation Jesus gives to both groups is that it was all about the way they treated ‘the least of His brothers and sisters’. “Just as you did it to [them], you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
I remember hearing Mother Theresa speak on this passage. Jesus has warned us, she said, that we will be judged on the way we treat the most vulnerable in this world, and she would hold up her hand with the five fingers extended, and she would say these five words while closing each finger: “you did it to me.”
Could it really be that simple? We religious people spend so much time reading our Bibles, fasting, praying, singing and performing the sacraments – all in an attempt to get closer to the Almighty. Could connecting with God really be as simple as giving a hungry person a meal and, if so, does this mean that the true path to salvation has nothing to do with religion? Did Jesus really say that?!
As I say, there is a great deal of confusion in this scene of judgement. Only the king seems to really understand what is going on, and that has parallels with so many of the stories in Matthew’s Gospel that we’ve been looking at.
- The labourers who worked all day in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) could not understand the basis upon which their pay was being worked out.
- In the parable of the great wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) there was great confusion over who was invited and who was not.
- The ten young girls who missed out on the party (Matthew 25:1-13) could not make sense of why they were being shut out.
- In the parable of the talents (Matthew 15:14-30), the servant who buried his master’s money thought he was doing the right thing until it was all too late.
We seem to have real trouble understanding the way God works in our world. God and God’s ways are complicated, and if Christ is King in this world, it’s not the sort of kingship we are accustomed to. We associate kingship with raw power, and consequently with violence and abuse. Jesus’ kingship seems to be about something altogether different.
In all honesty, I have trouble making any sense of our world at the moment. So many of us are struggling. The forces of darkness seem to be concentrating. Global violence is looming once again, and where the hand of God is at work in our world right now is not obvious to me at all!
Perhaps this is a very good time to proclaim that Christ is king, and to assert loudly that, despite all signs to the contrary, everything is going to turn out well. Justice will come, bringing with it freedom and peace. The dark powers will be vanquished, and every tear will be wiped away. It is also a great time to remember that, however we move forward, we must not leave the vulnerable behind. For whatever we do for the least of these – Christ’s sisters and brothers – we do for Him.
Our Sunday Eucharist
Last weekend’s Sunday Eucharist was a surprise and a delight. In truth, it didn’t seem to be coming together. Karyn had pulled out due to family commitments. I had forgotten that Sam, likewise, had told me he would not be available, and Father Ola ran out of time to do his video homily. Thankfully, Rob offered to join me on the panel. Even so, I wasn’t expecting much from the Bible Banter without the original gang of four. I should have had more faith!
Just as in our first reading from the book of Judges, where God raised up some unlikely women to save the nation, so we were gifted with some amazing women who brought their wisdom to our discussion. Thank you, Joy, Leonie and Diane for sharing your insights with us – not just on the Scripture readings, but on the global political situation too, and on how those readings and our current situation connect together. Thank you to the brothers who joined in too. It was a great session.
This Sunday I hope to have Doug, Andrew and Father Elias with me. However things turn out though, I trust that it will be great. Tune in to www.thesundayeucharist.com from midday on Sunday, as usual, or join us through Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedInor Streamyard. I do look forward to sharing this Eucharist with you. 😊
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- Saturday, December 9th – Assange rally from 12.30 pm @ The PM’s office.
I’m giving all you Sydney-siders plenty of notice about this rally for Julian. I can’t believe he is still in custody after all the pleas from people and politicians around the world. Of course, there is so much going on right now that staggers the imagination, perhaps this should not surprise me.
I am privileged to be one of the speakers at the event, and I look forward to linking up there again with Julian’s dad, John. Perhaps this cry for justice will be the straw that breaks the back of the dark forces that keep Julian silenced and in prison. Make it happen, Lord Jesus! He is one of your sheep.
Finally, I purchased some software this week that allows me to create video podcast compilations. I used it to package together our recent video broadcasts concerning Gaza. You can see them here. I didn’t realise until I put the broadcasts together that we’ve already done six, and I hope to do a few more yet. We need to keep speaking up and speaking out about Israel and Palestine. We must not grow weary in our outrage lest the murder of so many innocents be allowed to become acceptable.
I’m currently trying to organise another webinar that will bring together my friend, Dr Stephen Sizer, with another old friend, Miko Peled, who, in case you don’t know him, is the son of Matti Peled, who was an Israeli general in the war of 1967. He’s not the person you might expect to be an outspoken advocate for the Palestinian cause, yet both he and his sister, Nurit, are on the frontline of Palestinian human-rights work.
I had Miko speaking at my church twelve years ago, and I’ll try to put together a video podcast compilation of those talks for next week’s newsletter. In the meantime, you can see the initial 3-minute interview I did with him back in 2011 below.
Please continue to pray for me, as I do for you. There is so much going on in this world at the moment that is depressing and confusing. We must hold on to hope – believing that Christ, the King, will indeed return to have the final say.
“Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
Your brother in the Good Fight,