When Was It?
The Church year ends with Christ the King Sunday. Today we have a powerful passage from Matthew where Jesus establishes what is important of the Kingdom of God. The question ‘when was it?’ becomes a common refrain as we seek to understand God’s will and our purpose of creation. What becomes clear in our passage is that God has placed an expectation upon us to help the people around us.
When Was It?
Text: Matthew 25: 31-46
This morning is Christ the King Sunday. A day in the church year when we mark the kingship of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that Matthew refers to Jesus as the King in this passage. Our reading comes near the end of Matthew’s gospel and for us it is also the end of the church year. As the temperature cools and leaves fall in the preparation for winter we prepare to enter into a season of expectation and light.
To quote the band REM, “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”
But do we feel fine? Should we feel fine? Is everything fine?
Are things fine in our neighbourhoods? Wednesday was National Housing Awareness day, a reminder that not everyone in our community is adequately housed. I met a young man on Thursday, he came to see me before the Soup Kitchen started. He can’t find a place to stay in Cobourg, no apartments for rent. He’s going to move on and try his luck elsewhere, but was thankful for the meal.
Fine is one of those words we use when things are humming along. Things aren’t great and things aren’t terrible. And within our own individual lives I imagine we are all in some way, shape or form feeling fine. But as we celebrate the kingship of Jesus and prepare to eat this meal, fine is not the words I would use. Humbled, overjoyed, and thankful come to mind as more appropriate.
Our passage this morning comes with hard truths that we need to contend with. A message of judgement that should make us uneasy, should make us feel anything but fine. In its themes it stretches back to chapter five in Matthew’s gospel where we find the sermon on the mount, the beatitudes.
There we read:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
These statements echo through Matthew’s gospel and here today with a passage on judgement the question before us is did we provide mercy, did we mourn with those who grieve, did we support the meek, did we speak up for the oppressed, how pure are our hearts?
When was it Lord, that we saw you? When you did it for the least of these, so you did it for me.
When was it that we walked past the homeless?
When was it that we opted for safety over lending aid?
When was it?
The church year ends today on Christ the King Sunday with a reading that reminds us that God is displeased when the vulnerable are not cared for.
Karoline Lewis writes, “Why is this passage apropos for this Sunday? Because Jesus’ says to us, “if you do not see or experience the reign of Christ in your life, before you cast culpability elsewhere, you better first examine yourself.” If you have to ask Jesus, “when was it…?” you are not paying attention. Furthermore, if you have to ask Jesus, “when was it…?” you really do not believe that your actions make a difference for moving Christ’s reign to its fullest expression and presence” (reference).
When was it is not a question that one who is certain in God’s sovereignty needs to ask.
When was it is not a question that one who trusts in God’s activity in creation needs to ask, even when everything else points to the contrary.
Asking the question when was it is for those who are looking to justify their behaviour, who have fallen away or who use the good news of the gospel to support their own ends and not Gods.
When we care for the vulnerable, we are caring for God. God feels our pain and God also feels the joy we receive upon restoration to wholeness. We love the Creator by loving all within creation. There is no difference between loving God and loving the world.
Now you might say that all this sounds like a lot of work. You might say that isn’t the hope of Christmas, that season which is soon to be before us, isn’t the hope of that time that Jesus comes and says all will be well. Don’t we say that the hope of the world rests on Christ. This is what we are about to anticipate through Advent and realize at Christmas. However, today, here in this place we read that the mantle of that burden shifts to our shoulders. When we fail to treat with respect and compassion the least of those among us, then we fail to honour Christ, his teachings, his life, his death and his resurrection. Within this passage the entirety of the gospel is at stake.
Everything Jesus has done, everything he has taught is brought together at this moment when Matthew names him as king. And the king says thank you for giving me food, for giving me drink, for welcoming me, for providing me with clothing, for tending to my needs.
Here’s the thing, this passage in Matthew the sheep and the goats. The righteous and the accursed they both ask the same thing, “When was it?” When was it that I saw you, that I feed you, that I visited you. They both ask that same question, but for the righteous they paid attention to the teaching, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. They saw the meaning, they understood the message and they needn’t fear the response.
My prayer is that we ask the question ‘When was it?’ in moments of reflection for the good work we have done. The work that Jesus calls us to do. Amen.