This week’s gospel reading (Matthew 25:31-46) is yet again one which may cause us to have some self-reflective thoughts about our lives.
It is the story that immediately follows the one of the ten bridesmaids and the talents. Both of which caused us to think about sharing with others or exploiting others. In this story there is a judgment which divides people.
Just to be clear . . . I not equating this with actual futuristic events but I am reading it as a story which is telling the audience how they should behave. The author of the gospel firstly conveyed the message through parable and now though apocalyptic literature.
In the story the people are divided into those who cared for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the prisoners and those who didn’t. It is an appropriate reading for this Sunday which the church celebrates as the “Reign of Christ”. It is the final Sunday of the church’s calendar. Next week the cycle restarts with Advent. The Reign of Christ is the triumphant end of the church’s year. Yet, the reading gives it a real twist, the Realm of Christ is not about pomp and circumstance but about caring for others.
It is also Thanksgiving week in America. A time where traditionally, those who are able, join their families and give thanks for all they have. Of course, there is an underside to Thanksgiving historically with the memory of the slaughter of many thousands of native people. In addition, Thanksgiving has become a huge time for buying and spending. Again this reading may be a timely reminder.
So, bearing in mind both that we are celebrating the Reign of Christ and Thanksgiving I want to share a few thoughts that I had as I read the passage.
The first thought was that in the story the gathering is of all nations. It is always amazing how lines drawn on maps (and borders) can cause so much trouble in the world. Nations against nations! Here all the nations are gathered. We often lose this thought as it is an opening line. We don’t often dwell on it, simply seeing it as setting the scene. Yet, even at the time it was penned, this would have been quite a stunning opening. It would have got the audience’s attention, even send a ripple of shock. All the nations, even those who have been seen as enemies, are included.
The second thought is about interconnectedness and the care of all people. In this story all people are interconnected. In this story what is done to one is perceived as being done for another. We do not exist in isolation. We cannot ignore what is going on around us. I am still trying to think through the implications of this. It brought to mind the famous words penned by King in Letter from Birmingham Jail. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The third and final thought is about the actual care of the poor, sick, lonely and prisoners. There is a message for us in that. Do we treat people differently? Would we be more willing to help someone who is in a position of power? Do we help those who are poor, hungry, in prison? This story isn’t about doing something for “the king” but about how the poor, sick, lonely, prisoners are treated.
Of course, the issue is not a simple. It is an issue Andy and I wrestle with constantly in our conversations in our hot tub. With our decision to be foster carers we see all sides of life. Many of the children are removed from situations of poverty. Yet, their mothers continue to have more children. It is not unusual to see young women in their twenties with six or seven little ones and no emotional or physical resources to care for them. It raises questions about how resources are spent. What is the best way to help? Yet, this gospel story gives us a clear mandate, to care and to help.
Sadly, two or three of our former foster children are now in gaol. It is usually the ones who come to us as a “last resort”. They are already embarked on a life of drug related crime. Yet, their stories are so sad. Does prison really help? We have been watching a bizarre British programme called, “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”. It usually runs for about three weeks every November. This year ten celebrities were divided into two groups of five. One group was in the camp, the other group in the “Slammer” (gaol). The slammer was an outdoor camp with bars all around. (Actually we noted that the gate was not locked!) The prisoners never left it for a few days. It really struck me how tense and emotionally draining it was for the five imprisoned there. Even though they knew they could opt out at any moment, they were depressed, bored, anxious and described it an emotional rollercoaster. As I listened to them, it made me wonder what it must be like to be in that situation (in much smaller rooms) with no control over one’s life.
So as often happens in a gospel story, this one leaves us feeling faintly disturbed. Yet, there is hope, as we care for those around us we can see that seed of Christ in each human being. Our lives are a little richer as we make new friends and recognize that the realm of God is composed of us all together. We see with new eyes all we have to be thankful for. As you celebrate Reign of Christ and Thanksgiving have a blessed time.