Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
St. Matthew 25:31-46
Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Prayer of the Day:
O God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service, and in him we inherit the riches of your grace. Give us the wisdom to know what is right and the strength to serve the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
[Jesus said] 25.31 “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. 32 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, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 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; 35 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, 36 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.’ 37 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? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 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.’
41 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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’ 44 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?’ 45 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
St. Matthew 25:31-46, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Lord, When Was It that We Saw You?
What is the kingdom of heaven like? Images conjured up come from a wide range of sources: songs (especially spirituals), movies, stories, and pieces of visual art. Some imagine angels with harps and wings, pearly gates and streets paved with gold. I was struck, once, to learn that in certain Nordic cultures heaven is depicted as a warm, lush garden and hell is depicted as a cold, snowy tundra. It seems that when we strive to imagine heaven, our thoughts go to the most pleasant possible surroundings. When we imagine hell, just the opposite comes to mind. Truth is: for most people, notions of heaven are not based on anything recorded in the Bible, because the Bible teaches us about heaven in a different way than this.
What is the kingdom of heaven like? In the Gospels, Jesus Christ gives us many answers. The kingdom of heaven is like: a sower who goes out to sow some seeds, a grain of mustard seed, a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants, someone looking for fine pearls, ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom, a woman who lost a coin, a shepherd, who upon missing a lamb… Jesus teaches often about the kingdom of heaven and what it is like, but for him the kingdom of heaven is described not so much as a noun, but as a verb. In the teachings of Jesus, we don’t hear what heaven will look like one day; what we will look like in heaven one day; what sort of accommodations we will have one day. We don’t even hear whether heaven is an actual place or not. Instead, we hear how a person experiences the kingdom of heaven. We hear how God goes about including people in the kingdom of heaven. And as we call to mind the teachings of Jesus that answer the question, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?” we begin to understand not so much how the kingdom of heaven will look, or feel, or function, but how we are welcomed into it, and made a part of it by the One who created us and who loves us unconditionally.
In St. Matthew 24:1-3, the disciples ask Jesus about the end of the world’s history, and the return of Christ. “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” His answer stretches through the next two chapters, culminating in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus’ answer is as plain as it is concrete. The end of this age will come, and the new kingdom will emerge, as God’s people feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. Along with this description comes a promise: whenever you do so to the least of these, you do so to me. The presence of Christ the King is hidden in the needy and unfortunate ones who surround us in this world. And we meet Christ — we experience the kingdom of heaven — when we reach out to them with love and compassion and encouragement and support.
So what is kingdom of heaven like? It is like a plate of food when you’re hungry. It is like a glass of water when you’re thirsty. It is like a warm welcome received in an unfamiliar place. It is the offer of clothes when you don’t have enough. It is the care received in the midst of sickness. It is the visitor who shows up in a maximum security unit. When these realities become our realities, the kingdom of heaven has broken into our lives, and we have been touched by God’s grace. And when these realities happen to others, through us, we have come to see Christ himself. We have come to serve Christ himself.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What must Jesus’ disciples have been thinking about the kingdom of heaven?
- What is surprising about the picture Jesus paints in this Parable?
- How did believers in the early church experience the presence of Christ?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What images have I carried with me about heaven, or the kingdom of heaven?
- Given Jesus’ description, when has the kingdom of heaven broken into my life?
- When have I been a vehicle through which God worked to bless others?