The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 25th Chapter
“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. 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, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 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; 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.’ 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 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, you did it to me.’ 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’ 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?’ 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
When people ask how Kelly and I met, Kelly always says she chased me until I caught her. Which is accurate. I had been friend-zoned so many times at that point in my life, I assumed I would end up in the friend-zone with her too, so I just saved her the trouble and friend-zoned myself! That was until she stopped being subtle… THEN I clued in and quickly caught up! And once I caught up, I went with her places I wouldn’t have gone before I knew her. I hung out with people I wouldn’t have hung out with before. There was the Halloween party where we were the only straight couple. There was her friend, the scary drag queen, not scary because of the drag, but because… well… SCARY! I met her friends who soon became my friends too, most were either dying of AIDS, loosing partners because of AIDS, grieving the loss of dozens of friends from AIDS and in most cases, all of that at the same time.
Now, I didn’t meet those people and go to those places out of a sense of compassion or social justice or doing the “right thing”… at least not to begin with… the reason I went there and hung out with these folks was… well… that’s where Kelly was going and that’s who Kelly was seeing and I just wanted to be with her.
That’s really what’s happening in this parable. The people that fed the hungry, gave the thirsty something to drink, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner had NO IDEA that they were doing something good or noble or praiseworthy. “When did we do THAT?” they all said! ALL they were doing, at least at first, was following around the ONE who loved them. Jesus. They fed the hungry and clothed the naked and healed the sick… not to be noble or “good” or anything like that. They just did all that because Jesus had loved them and now they just wanted to be with Jesus. And tagging along with Jesus they ended up doing Jesus things and being with the people Jesus was with. The ORDER in which this happened turns out to be really important. FIRST, Jesus loved them. THEN they started doing Jesus stuff… like feeding the hungry and healing the sick and all that.
The order’s important because this parable can quickly get turned around if we’re not careful. It’s important to notice… ALL the sheep and ALL the goats… all the nations… are gathered together by the Good Shepherd. Everyone’s “IN”… no exceptions... we’ve all been gathered together… caught up in God’s infinite, loving, embrace. It DOESN’T say, “Do good stuff and that will make Jesus love you.” It DOESN’T say, “Do bad stuff and you’ll burn.” THIS PARABLE SAYS, “You HAVE BEEN gathered together and wrapped in God’s infinite, unconditional love! Period! Done! NOW. Living in the light of that reality… whatcha gonna do about it?
Our lives are a RESPONSE to God’s love. Our lives do not FORCE a response from God. SO, with that in mind, scooped up by God’s love, sheep and goats alike, removed from the friend-zone, there are basically two options for RESPONDING. We can CLUE IN to God’s love and CATCH UP with the love we’ve been given in Christ. THEN, once we’ve clued in and caught up we’ll inevitably begin to follow the ONE who loved us first. Going where Jesus goes, meeting who Jesus meets, doing what Jesus does. And it turns out, when you do Jesus stuff out in the world… when you live a Jesus sort of life, and hang out with the sort of people Jesus hung out with… it looks to all the world like you’re living a peculiarly gracious, loving, generous and peace filled life.
The other option is… well… you don’t. You refuse to clue in to how much you’re loved. You reject the truth of the unconditional love you’ve been given and you respond by walking away from God’s unconditional, loving embrace. That too looks a particular way to those around you. It looks like not sharing, not caring, looking out only for yourself and demonizing THOSE people.
The kicker of it all… The GRACE of it all, is that no matter how you choose to RESPOND to God’s love for you, your choice never changes the fact that God loves you. You are loved no matter what you choose. But a life lived diving deeper and deeper every day into God’s infinite love, is a VERY different life experience than a life lived on the run from God’s love.
It’s sort of like a mother’s love for their toddler. Her love for her child is solid, both when that child’s little head is nestling into her mother’s chest AND when that same toddler arches her back, screams and kicks and tries to throw herself out of her mother’s arms. Mom loves them both ways, but the one response to that love is a way is peaceful and filled with joy while the other way, well, it’s a bit like hell.
That’s the way God works. You and I and all of creation... we were made perfectly... but perfectly human. There are times when we are at our best. Times when we clue in and catch up and live our lives in response to God’s love… living for the least and the lost and the last of the world. Then there are times when we arch our backs and scream and kick, responding to God’s love by trying everything we can to throw ourselves out of God’s loving embrace. And yet… in the power of God’s love… a power so great it raises the dead… we have been, and continually are, scooped up in God's love regardless of what we choose.
THAT’s where we live. We live every moment of our lives, scooped up in God’s loving arms, in all our tender sheepish moments AND in every kicking moment of goatitude. There’s simply NO question about that. The only question is a question we answer new every day... How will we respond to that love today? So, scooped up in the Good Shepherd’s loving embrace… Living in the light of that reality… how will you choose to respond? Amen.