Theme: The Reign of Christ
Sentence: Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:34
Collect: God of majesty and glory, you reign over all. In the midst of the powers and principalities of this world, give us clarity to swear our allegiance to the only true sovereign, to care for the least of our sisters and brothers and to dedicate our lives to the coming of your kingdom. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Our theme for today is the reign of Christ. And, Christ’s reign is over the least of these according to Matthew.
It’s obvious that Matthew gets what Jesus is saying. He has no doubt about who’s in and who’s out. No questions. It’s all pretty simple for him. Feed the hungry. Give the thirsty something to drink. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Care for the sick. And, visit the prisoner. I’m sure it’s pretty clear to you because as Christians this is what we do.
But, apparently, this isn’t so. I wish it were as easy as going through a check list and categorising people as either a sheep or a goat, those who cared for “the least of these” and those who didn’t. You’re in, You’re out! Sorry you don’t make the cut, but you do. See, it’s not that easy and I know it wouldn’t be easy for you to choose.
What happens when you don’t help someone? I get confronted with this all time, I see homeless persons sleeping under the bridges every Sunday on my way to karakia. Am a goat? For not stopping and helping them. Am I bound for the eternal fires of punishment. I don’t know. Because I try to make up for it by helping others less fortunate. And, I know we as a church are always welcoming. All people are welcome here. We provide a beautiful clean building for karakia every Sunday and we’ve always provided a kai, even if it’s just a cuppa tea and biscuits. So are we good sheep? Righteous? Blessed by the Father? And bound for eternal life? I don’t know.
You see, it’s just not that easy categorising ourselves as either a sheep or a goat.
The reality is, we are both. I reckon each of you has a story just like mine; a time when you fed, clothed, visited, cared for one of the least of these, and another time when you just drove past, looked away, or pretended not to see a man or a woman asking for money, food, work, or some other help. I could give you a list of reasons to defend and justify my choices of when and who I help. But I don’t think that’s what today’s gospel is about. It’s not about telling the truth that confronts others. It’s about telling the truth about my life and your life. It’s about getting really real with our lives and our circumstances.
You see, the least of these, always seem to have a way of revealing to us, the truth of who we are and what our life is about. They do that so much more clearly rather than those I consider to be an equal or those I consider to be above me. The least of these are in all our lives. They don’t always fit our stereotyped images. Sure, it might be the person on the street corner asking for a handout. It might be a mother asking for food or someone who just got out of prison, again. Sometimes, though, it’s the ones who live under the same roof as me or sits across the table from me. And it’s not always about their physical needs. The least of these also have emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.
The least of these are in all our relationships. They are the people over whom we have power and control. The ones who have less resources and options than we do or they are overwhelmed by life and lack support. They are the ones we can do whatever we want to them and not really worry about their response. We threaten or intimidate them simply because of who we are, what we have and what we can do. So, who are the least of these in your life? Some maybe anonymous. But it might be someone sitting right next to you.
We all want to make a difference. We want to make a difference in the life of another, in the church and in the world. Maybe that’s why we sometimes struggle with our decisions and the choices we make. It’s the reason we ask guidance from others. It’s the reason we pray for God’s help because deep down we really do want to make a difference and do what’s right.
Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you. You don’t have to try to make a difference. Quit trying. Because you’re already making a difference. Every single one of you is making a difference. Even I am. But here’s the bad news. I don’t know if we are doing it for the good or for the bad. We often don’t really know. The people in today’s gospel, have no idea what difference they are making. They are just going on about their lives. One cared for the least of these and the other didn’t. They seem oblivious as to the consequences or effects of their actions. They both ask the same question. “When did we see you?” But let’s not take this story literally. Let’s not make this into a search for the least of these so we can be helpful and caring and get to heaven. Don’t start counting and keeping score of how many people we helped and how many we passed by, overlooked, or said no too. Do we just total up the two columns at the end of our life and see which is greater, those we cared for or those we didn’t care for? I don’t think that’s what today’s gospel is all about. That’s too easy. We already know we should help and care for one another.
This story is all about naming the reality in which we live. It’s a reality that pulls us in different and sometimes opposite directions. It’s a reality in which we often contradict ourselves. It’s a reality in which we always have choices before us and what we choose always makes a difference – for good or bad. It will always matter and always make a difference in someone’s life. Own your realities.
Maybe the goat and sheep metaphor worked in Jesus’ time but I don’t think it makes much sense to people today. We need a new metaphor. We need a new way of understanding what’s going on. Maybe what’s really being said is that there are two ways. We are pulled by God in one direction and our humanity in another. Or we could see it as the conflict and contraction between our humanity and our in-humanity. Another way would be to say that we live in the light and follow a path of light and we also live in the darkness and follow that path. It’s never just one or the other. It’s always both.
If we are really honest with ourselves, if we look deep with in us, we will see our humanity and our in-humanity. We will see both our light and our darkness. What if this story isn’t so much about assigning reward or punishment that determines an eternal location? Maybe it’s pushing us to look a the truth of our lives, to look at the choices we make here and now and to be aware that our choices do matter. You see, those metaphors and the choices they present are always coming to us. Look at the headlines in the news and you can see the choice between light and darkness. World leaders pushing their politics and agendas. How every country is dealing with covid19 but the death toll keeps raising. How our people are being treated in this country. We may not be guilty for what’s going on around us but we are all responsible. We are responsible for the choices we make – to choose light, to choose life and to choose to help another. What does it mean for you and me to choose light in the aftermath of any event in our lives? What does that look like in each of our individual lives?
These are not choices that live outside of us. They live in each one of us. How we choose begins to set the direction for our lives. I don’t think any of us get to that final place – whatever it is or however we understand it – overnight. It’s not a one time event or a single decision. It’s a series of choices and the further down the road we go, whether it is the road of light or the road of darkness, the harder it is and the longer it takes to return. Maybe we even reach that point of no return, a point where we just can’t find our way back. That’s a judgment on our life but it’s a judgment each one of us makes and chooses for ourselves. A King or Queen, sitting on the throne of their glory, simply names what is and what they see. So what do you see when you look at your life? What are the least of these showing you?
Everyone of you could look at the situations you are in today and see choices being made between light and darkness. These choices matter not just for you but also for another human being, choices that will affect their life for good or bad. We have the ability to open the channels of life, beauty, generosity, justice and compassion, just as we have the ability to block and close those channels down.
So don’t hear this story as a final judgment on your life. Hear it as a wake up call. Let it be the chance to see yourself through the eyes of someone less than you. What do they see? Is that who you want to be? What choices will lead you on the path of light? What choices will help you discover the light and beauty within yourself and within the other? That light which describe who we most authentically are. But I also know that that light and beauty can be cruelly tested by the vulgar, the ugly and the violence in our world. And yet, the choice remains; light or darkness. Who and how do you want to be? What will you choose?
What if we approached every person, every place, every circumstance and every choice as if we see Christ, and if we don’t, if we can’t see Christ, what if we approached every person, every place, every circumstance and every choice, as if Christ sees us? Either way there is a seeing taking place. What if we allowed those seeings to push us deep into ourselves to uncover, rediscover, or maybe even discover for the first time, the light that is truly who you are, and in that light we made our next choice? What if we made our next choice based not on the truth of the other’s life but on the truth of our own life? Sometimes we would choose yes and other times we would choose no. But every time we choose it’s in favour of the powerless one.
That’s what the least of these or powerless people do for us. They set a choice before us, and it’s not just a choice to help or not help. It’s a human choice – a choice that has a face, a name, a life, hopes, fears and needs. It’s a choice between our light and our darkness, our humanity and our in-humanity.
A choice awaits each one of us today. What will we choose? And, who will we be?
The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu