Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Matthew 25:31-46
Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
(Christ the King Sunday)
analysis by Bob Bertram

31Jesus said to the disciples: “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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? 40And 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.’ 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.’ 44Then they 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?’ 45Then he will answer them, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to the one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

NOTE: This programming of the pericope has undergone several revisions. It is quoted here by permission of its author, Robert W. Bertram. THEME: Neither the goats nor the sheep had “seen” Christ the Judge in their needy neighbors. What is the difference in the two ways of not seeing him? One way ignores him, the other way trusts him; one way overlooks even the needy neighbor, the other way concentrates on the neighbor; one way is cursed, the other way is blessed.

DIAGNOSIS: The way of cursed judgment

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Neglect of the needy
Members of the Christian community are neglecting their own needy (maybe also the needy outside the Christian community) even in such basic bodily needs as hunger and illness and imprisonment, which Christians should hardly have to be Christian to “see” as needs and to respond to. [Notice, this Matthean story is not about non-Christians who have never heard about Jesus Messiah until they first encounter him as judge on the “glorious throne.” Although they come from “all the nations,” these are the same “all nations” to which the resurrected Christ has previously sent his missionaries to teach “all that I have commanded you” (28:19-20). Both the “sheep” and the “goats” — like the “wheat” and the “weeds,” all in the same “field” where the “good seed” had been sown (13:24-30, 36-43) — are all, until the Last Analysis, members within the Christian community. Likewise “the righteous” in this story who feed the hungry are not pious pagans but Christians, knowingly followers of Jesus, like the woman with the ointment “in memory of” whom Jesus compares caring for “the poor” with caring for “me” (26:6-13). And the “least of these” to whom Jesus is “Brother” are also probably Christians (10:42; 12:49-50; 18:35; 23:8; 25:40; 28:10). The whole story is about the same ones to whom it is addressed, present company, the church.]

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Not Seeing as Unfaith
What is worse, these uncaring “Christians,” who ought to know better, are not only uncaring but unbelieving. Being faithless they do not “see” in their needy neighbors their awesome Judge, Jesus Son of Man. So they spurn not only the King’s kin bu the King. [Notice, it is not a matter of indifference whether Judge Jesus is “seen” in the needy neighbor or not. Else why would this story take such pains to demonstrate that it is he who is hungering, thirsting, etc.? True, there is a healthy way not to see him in the needy — the way of faith. But there is also a hellish way, the way of unfaith.]

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Seen as Condemned
Worst of all, these “Christians” who during their lifetimes have not cared for the needy ones, and so not for the needy ones’ big Brother either, Jesus Son of Man, should not be surprised when in the Last Analysis they get their way and are separated from him permanently, and from the Christian “sheep” whom they have so long goated and butted and crowded out at the feed-trough.

PROGNOSIS: The way of blessed righteousness

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Encountering the Dependent One
The solution is not just that there is a Son of Man who finally “comes in his glory” to judge, even though he does judge favorably n the case of those who cared for his needy sisters and brothers. The solution is rather that, long before he comes as awesome judge, he comes in a “real presence” which is utterly unitimidating, as a human dependent who hungers for our food and drink and longs for our company, as one of “the least of these;” that he dignifies our service to them as service to himself; that he cheers us on by this Good News; that he promises to share his own dominion with us as junior deities forever.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Not seeing as faith
What is more, his presence and his promise do not depend on our “seeing” him — that is, seeing him as eventually we shall see him, as awesome judge who assigns reward and punishment, bliss and curse. For now we have that only on his Word, by the hearing of faith, not yet — thank God — by sight. For if that were the sight of him to which we were already exposed, we would surely be preoccupied instead with ourselves and would lose sight of our needy neighbors. Our need is for the not-seeing of faith. [Note: There is, as we said, a kind of not-seeing Christ the Judge which is “righteous:” not the not-seeing which blindly disregards his judgment but the not-seeing which shades his judgment behind what we do not see, his nearness in lowliness and in his Word. That is the not-seeing of faith, undistracted by rewards and punishment and surprised when rewards do come.]

Step 6- Final Prognosis: Promising presence to the needy
Best of all, because of believers who do not yet “see” Christ as judge except as he is mercifully filtered through merely humans like themselves, consequently there are needy ones who are already being fed and clothed and visited and healed. For now, to all appearances, this is still a goat’s world. But even prior to the victims’ final liberation from their goatish oppressors, they are enjoying Big Connections and are being honored accordingly, of all things by “the terrible meek,” these nearsighted sheep.


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