This morning Ted Kennedy’s funeral caught my attention. There is no doubt, despite his flaws just like the rest of us, he was a great man who cared deeply for those who are less fortunate than he or many of us. I think we can learn alot from him when it comes to caring about those who don’t have the access that many of us do for healthcare, education, security, and a number of other basic human needs.
The thing that most captured my attention was the Priest’s reading of Matthew 25: 31-46. Most often when I hear this passage of scripture my attention gets lost in my own sense of security. It’s good to be a sheep. At the same time if a sheep is characterized by caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those that are incarcerated, what does this say about me?
When was the last time I fed the hungry? I don’t remember. When was the last time I gave someone something to drink? I did lead a group to Africa last year to put a well and irrigation system in a village. When was the last time I took in a stranger? My parents taught me not to talk to strangers. When was the last time I clothed the naked. I do have a closet full of clothes I’ve been thinking about cleaning out and giving them to an organization that does that kind of stuff. When was the last time I cared for the sick? I did go to visit a lady with cancer a couple of weeks ago in the hospital. I even followed up with a call. When was the last time I visited someone in prison? I don’t like prisons. They make me feel uncomfortable.
To be honest, I would rather attend church on the weekends, get involved with a small group of people who are just like me in that they don’t need a lot of attention, read my Bible, live a moral life, and say my prayers.
For some reason this morning this passage of scripture rocked my world. I can’t help but hear Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:20. He begins his ministry with these words and then he comes to the end of his ministry with the words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25:45.
What is this righteousness that Jesus is talking about? I have been taught by my brand of religion that when I think of righteousness I most often associate it with morality. However, this could not be the case for there were none more moral than the Pharisees. To understand this righteousness that we are told to exceed and even to seek before all other things is a form of justice. Justice is the proper use of power. This kind of justice connects with a redemptive imagination for the least of those around and among us.
Jesus is crystal clear in his teaching on the kingdom found in Matthew 25. This passage represents the ultimate eulogy. The son of man comes in all of his glory. All nations are gathered around him. The people of these nations are divided into two groups. The nations disappear. Now there are two people who stand before him. There are the sheep and the goats. He invites the sheep into his blessing. He speaks of their righteousness. They have clothed the Lord Jesus in his nakedness. They have visited him in his loneliness. They have fed our Lord in his hunger. They have taken care of him in his sickness. They have acted righteously. They have sought justice. They have exercised a proper use of their power by helping those who are powerless.
Those that remain are banished from Jesus and his glory. He was hungry, naked, sick, imprisoned, and lonely and they took no note. Those who are banished are not without protest. When Lord did we not pay attention to you in your need. Suddenly Jesus’ kingdom is revealed. When you fail to care for the very least among you, you fail to care for me.
How did I miss this? Jesus couldn’t have been clearer. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” Matthew 6:33.
Read it for yourself!
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life Matthew 25:31-46.