by Rev. Magrey DeVega, St. Paul's UMC Cherokee, IA
First, read Matthew 25:44
Today’s scripture passage is found only in Matthew, and it supports one of his central ideas: this Jesus, for whom we are waiting, is in fact already here among us.
At the final judgment, the king will separate people into two groups, the sheep and the goats, based solely on whether or not they cared for the king while he was still on earth. And both groups will ask the question: “But when did we see you, to care for you when you were hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned?” The king’s response will be the same to both groups: “when you did this to the least of these, you did it to me.”
We often interpret this passage for its social justice implications, for good reason. Care for those who have been marginalized, oppressed, and battered by the traumatic experiences of life are to be a central part of our mission. Over and over again, Jesus paid attention to the people that the rest of society ignored, and it is incumbent upon us to do the same. To be sheep, rather than goats, we must care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, and the imprisoned.
But the meaning of the parable goes beyond social justice. Matthew’s original audience, like many first century Christians, were eagerly awaiting the second coming of Jesus, just like many do today. (This anticipation, after all, is a part of the Advent season.) But as the days, months, and years drifted by, the early Christians were beginning to wonder if Jesus was ever going to come back.
It is to these people that Matthew says, if you are waiting for Jesus to come back some day, then stop waiting. You can find him right here on earth, right now, at this very moment. All you have to do is look into the eyes of the marginalized and the oppressed, and care for them. And when you see their faces, you are looking at the very face of Jesus himself. “To love another person,” said Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, “is to see the face of God.”
Ever Present God, teach me to find your presence all around me, even as I share your love with those that others might ignore. Amen.
As Methodists, we believe there is a direct correlation between loving God and caring for our neighbors. As one grows, so does the other. We begin to care not just about ourselves, but about the needs and well-being of others. As we grow in grace and love, we see the face of Jesus in the faces of those in need. Jesus wants us to be on the lookout for those in need and offer love and care whenever we can.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 25:44 remind us, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” After dinner, take a trip to the ice cream shop to get a milkshake or the coffee shop to get a peppermint hot chocolate with marshmallows.
On the way home, stop by the local hospital. Pull into one of the hospital parking spaces and have a special time of prayer for all those inside who are sick and away from their families and homes this Christmas season. Pray for healing for their bodies and peace for their hearts. May they know there is a God who loves them and never leaves them and people in this world willing to love and care for them.
What are other ways you can care for those in need?