For the past
two weeks we have looked at Jesus’ parables. We have read about young women who
had extra oil ready for when the groom was coming, and refused to share their
oil with others. We have read about a greedy master who punished one of his
servants for failing to make him more money. And this week we hear a story that
in many ways caps them off. Like the last two, this story is meant to start
discussions and debate – it is meant as an opener for teaching, where Jesus
will talk with people about what God’s kingdom is like.
It is meant to
challenge us to think, to ask questions, to talk to one another! So are you
ready to hear it?
“Now when the
Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on
his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will
separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the
goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on
“Then the king
will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my
Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I
was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to
wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed
you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and
welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or
in prison and visit you?’
“Then the king
will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the
least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
“Then he will
say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible
things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his
angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you
didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I
was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and
you didn’t visit me.’
will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked
or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer,
‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you
haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the
righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
like the prior two is a sorting story – a story where some people get rewards
and some do not. Like the last two, this one also challenges the hearers to
reconsider what God’s realm means and to contrast it with the world. So this
week Jesus says, if you do it for the least of these you do it for me. When you
fail to do it for the least of these, you have failed to do it for me.
This is a
contrast from the values of the world that say, “if you want rewards you do
things for people who can reward you. Help a rich person and you might get a
reward, but help a poor person and what good does it do you?” The little guy or
gal isn’t going to pay you back. They aren’t going to give you a big donation
for your charity or political campaign. They aren’t going to help you climb in
social status. So it is a waste of time. Help those who can help you in return.
I scratch your back, you scratch mine. You do a favor for me, I’ll do a favor for
But, like the
other parables, Jesus turns the norms of society on their head and says that
the one who judges us and who ultimately rewards us, does so based upon what we
have done for those who are most in need.
Interestingly, Jesus’ parable has had pretty far reaching effect on
people’s values. Everyone from Mother Teresa who based her whole ministry on
this passage, to Malcolm Forbes who said, “You can easily judge the character
of a [person] by how [they] treat those who can do nothing for [them].”
But before we get into the things it teaches us, let me remind you that
parables always have the potential to be misinterpreted. The biggest problem
this parable is that it suggests that people are judged purely on their works,
that God has no sense of grace, and it makes it sound like Jesus doesn’t even
know or pay any attention to those who haven’t done good works. But we know
that none of us live out God’s will perfectly, and we know that God has deep
parable isn’t trying to tell us that the only thing God judges us based on is
how we treat the least of these; however it reminds us that Jesus clearly
aligns himself with those who are hungry, who are thirsty, who are strangers,
who are naked, who are sick, and who are in prison. These are Jesus’ people and
he wants us to care for them. When we don’t, it is as though we deny knowing
him – because we are standing against everything that is important to him. When
we do, we demonstrate that we have sat at his feet and listened to his will.
I read this
story of Riaz as I was getting this sermon ready. “In The City lived
Riaz, a high school student in his last year. “The last year of high school is
critical” the guidance counsellor emphasized.
“You can’t put ‘hanging out with your
friends’ on your résumé, Riaz. You need to follow the program that we have
Riaz was not sure how to tell his guidance
counsellor why he didn’t make it to the various extra-curricular activities
they had discussed. It had been an excellent week. On Monday, he meant to go to
the yearbook meeting over lunch, but his friend (the one who never seems to
have proper food) refused to go, and he knew that if he did not share his
sandwich and juice with him, he would not eat or drink all day.
On Wednesday, he got into an argument with
some of his band mates who were making fun of the new exchange student from the
islands. He was so upset and confused by their words that he did not feel like
hanging out with them; instead he went to the mall and got the exchange student
a winter hat and gloves.
He missed student council because his sister
was sick, and opted to skip chess club on Friday to hang out with his lunchtime
friend in detention (since he never had the chance to see him on the weekends).
Riaz regretted that he did not make any of
his extra-curricular activities for the week, but he did not regret any of his
actions. He wondered what would be better, looking good on paper or doing good
by his friends and family.”
Riaz may not have literally sat at the feet of Jesus, but he understood the
heart of the teaching. Each and every moment of the day is an opportunity. It
is an opportunity to serve others or to serve yourself. You can help those who
need it, or you can help yourself. But you can’t do both.
Like I said, this parable caps off the few we have read over the past three
weeks. Each of them has asked, what gets us into heaven and what keeps us out?
Is it being
excited and prepared so that we are ready on a moment’s notice, even if that
means refusing to share what we have? Is it putting all of our effort into
increasing God’s kingdom, or should we instead stand up to evil and refuse to
be part of a system that is not godly? Is it giving to the poor? And the answer
is all of the above. Ultimately it is about our choices – do we choose to do
that which leads us closer to God, no matter what; or do we choose to do that
which gains us the world?
Choosing one means rejecting the other. If we want to choose God we need to
do that in every aspect of our lives – in our emotions, in our ethics and
morals, in the people we serve. So where will you serve Jesus this week? In
whose face will you see him?
A Jewish story goes: I went up to Heaven in a dream and stood at the Gates
of Paradise in order to observe the procedure of the Heavenly Tribunal. I
watched as a learned Rabbi approached and wished to enter. "Day and
night," he said, "I studied the Holy Torah."
"Wait," said the Angel. "We will investigate whether your
study was for its own sake or whether it was a matter of profession and for the
sake of honors.
A Righteous Person [a Zaddik] next approached. "I fasted much,"
he said, "I underwent many ritual cleansings; I studied the Zohar the
mystical commentary on the Torah day and night."
"Wait," said the Angel, "until we have completed our
investigation to learn whether you motives were pure."
Then a tavern-keeper drew near. "I kept an open door and fed without
charge every poor man or woman who came into my inn," he said.