Lesson 47 –
Matthew 25: 31-46
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,[a] 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.”
If you ever wanted to see Jesus as a mysterious and wise Yoda figure, the 25th chapter of Matthew is where you should start. In the 25th Chapter of Matthew, Jesus offers two parables– one of the ten bridesmaids and one about the talents. The passage we read today is a lengthy one. In your own devotional period, read the entire 25th chapter of Matthew. What sort of political statement is Jesus making here? Spiritual statement? Community statement? And how would you feel if you were in the audience as he was giving these instructions?
Today’s lesson will focus on making our faith real in the world.
Read the scripture out loud together. Discuss with someone in your home. If you had to explain your faith to someone in one sentence, what would you say?
What’s Happening During This Passage?
Jesus uses the imagery of sheep and goats to describe different ways of being in the world. When the “Son of Man” comes with all the angels, he will begin to separate “the sheep from the goats.” The sheep will go at his right hand, and the goats at his left. To those at his right (the sheep) he will say “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, 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.”
The people gathered will want to know “when did we do these things?” And to this, the answer is, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then, the opposite is true. For those who did not extend kindness to the “least of these,” they might as well have done it to Jesus himself. In this vignette, Jesus ends the lesson by saying, “And these will go away into eternal punishment” while the “righteous into eternal life.”
What Kind of Jesus Do You See Here?
It may be hard, startling even, to see this characterization of Jesus. He’s pretty direct. So often we speak about Jesus as someone who is loving, welcoming, accepting, tender, compassionate. But in this vignette, we see Jesus likening people to “sheep and goats.” And we see Jesus doling out eternal consequences. The ones who are righteous will be sent to “eternal life,” but the ones who ignored the needs of the least of these will go away into “eternal punishment.” We like to think about ourselves as being righteous and charitable. But how can it be possible that we have so much trouble in this world if no one is responsible for it? Are we each doing our best to clothe the naked and feed the hungry? Are we really doing our best, as a society, to ensure that no one will be naked, hungry, sick, or imprisoned?
This image of Jesus is challenging because it causes us to reflect on our actions and words aligning. Do we have integrity? What happens when doing right so often makes us weary?
Who Does Jesus Identify With? What Instruction Do We Have as Christ Followers?
It matters who Jesus identifies with. In fact, the riddle confuses the people in the story. They say, “when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” They do not understand why Jesus is so intimately involved with the story. But Jesus intentionally identifies with the prisoner, the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the sick. This is to be contrasted with the first few verses of the passage. Jesus describes this day as one when “the Son of Man comes in his glory.” How is it that someone who is “in glory” also a prisoner, hungry, thirsty, naked or sick?
Where Else Does Jesus Talk About The “Least?” How Ought The “Least” Be Treated?
In Matthew 10:42, Jesus says, “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Jesus is concerned with our treatment of the “least” and the “little ones.” And as we have read in other passages (like the laborers in the vineyard who were all paid the same regardless of hours worked), Jesus has a subversive way of understanding value. Though the world may consider certain people “least,” Christ focuses on those people. Christ does things that no one else “in their right mind” would do, like leaving 99 sheep to find the 1 who is lost. Jesus rarely does the “financially frugal” thing. In fact, what Jesus does goes against the advice of most financial advisers.
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
CONNECTION TO TODAY’S WORLD
In 2014, Josh Williams became a political prisoner in Ferguson. An on-the-ground activist, he helped lead massive actions against police violence. He was eventually convicted and sentenced for a crime with minimal evidence. This registered for many as an intentional warning to all other would-be activists. Currently, he is serving a several-years long sentence. We await more information about his case, as the parole hearing was moved to September. He also has very limited access to communication. Friends on the outside have maintained a digital hub to get updates about his case. To learn more, check out https://www.freejoshwilliams.com/. On this website, you can find ideas for not only supporting him, but all people jailed. You can send money, write letters, send comic books, or even contribute art. In his own words, Josh wrote,
“People of the nation, I speak to you in peace, I speak to you in love. People of the world, I speak to you and I say to you: I’m here with you, fighting alongside of you, because there are many fights you can be fighting for. Cancer, suicide prevention, bullying, voter oppression, whatever it is, I say to you: stay strong, don’t give up, I know you tired, I am too.”
Journal: What song makes you feel free?
Closing: Sing/watch “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” Nina Simone
I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say ’em loud, say ’em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free
I wish I could give
All I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live
Like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
And though I’m way overdue
I’d be starting anew
Well I wish I could be
Like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
Oh I’d soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
Then I’d sing ’cause I know, yea
I’d know how it feels
Oh, I know how it feels to be free
You have made your allegiance known to us. You know our names, our condition, our needs, our gifts, our skills. You care about our wellness and our safety.
We need to feel the solidarity, not just from you, but from our fellow human beings. We need to practice solidarity, not just with Jesus our liberator, but with all Creation. Focus our eyes and our minds on the work you have given us.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.