Matthew 25: 31-46
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Reign of Christ
November 23, 2014
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in the path of righteousness for His Name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
When he had finished, his audience applauded with enthusiasm and asked him to repeat the verses that they might again hear his wonderful rendition. Then the second man recited the same words: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want ..." But when he finished, not a sound came from his audience. Instead, the people sat quietly, in a deep, mood of prayer and devotion. Then the first man rose and said, "I have a confession to make. The difference between what you have just heard from my friend and what you heard from me is that I know the Psalm; my friend knows the Shepherd."
The Parable of the Last Judgment in today's Gospel Lesson confronts us head-on with one of the great paradoxes of our Christian faith. It is one which many of us have yet to grasp even though we have been members of the Church all our lives. To put it as simply as possible: the very best way to know and experience the Presence of the Lord who is our Shepherd, the very best way to make the inward journey to God, is through the outward journey to others. Or, as one of the early Church Fathers put it centuries ago, "The prodigal son cannot fully experience the Father's love until he has walked the Jericho Road with the Good Samaritan."
Jesus said, "... the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). He did this throughout His entire life and, ultimately, on the Cross. And He made it clear in His teaching that those who are His followers are to be women and men for others also. This teaching appears most powerfully in the "Parable of the Last Judgment" which we have just read from the Gospel of Matthew.
God, in His goodness, has given us many ways in which to position ourselves to experience His love for us. Prayer is a shining example. But, ultimately, when all is done and we stand before the throne of God, the only question remaining is, "Did you feed the hungry ... were you there when they needed you ... did you serve Me, love Me in this way?"
When we hear this parable about clothing the naked and feeding the hungry we tend to think -- and rightly so -- of the physical situations of life and the structures of society that need to be improved. But we forget that Jesus often "loaded" His words with deep meaning. There are many husbands and wives, many children, many people close to us who are starving for emotional and spiritual support, starving for acceptance, starving for forgiveness, starving for understanding. There may be persons very close to us who hunger and thirst for the discovery of meaning in their lives. Yes!: a ministry of love to the world. But also a ministry of love to those who are closest to us.
The story is told of a king who could not decide which of his three sons should succeed him to the throne. He resolved to leave his kingdom for a year during which time he would put his sons to a test. He gave each of them a package of precious seeds, telling them to guard the seeds well while he was gone. The first son, who was a very cautious lad, looked at the seeds and said to himself, "I will take these seeds and put them in the strongest safe I can build. I will carry the key to the safe on my person at all times. When my father returns, the seeds will be secure. He will see how careful I am." The second son, a very clever fellow, looked at the seeds and said to himself, "These seeds will be old and dried when my father returns. They are very valuable seeds so I will sell them now in the market place and guard the money I receive. Next year, when my father returns, I will buy fresh seeds for him. He will see how clever I am." The third son, a simple boy, looked at the seeds and said to himself, "I must plant these precious seeds in the garden." He knew his father loved flowers and he rejoiced when he saw how well the seeds began to flourish. "My father will be happy when he sees these flowers," he thought. When the year had ended and the king returned, the first son brought his father the seeds from the safe. "Now I shall be king because I was so careful" he told himself. The second son brought his father the package of new seeds he had bought, saying to himself, "Now I shall be king. I did not return old, dried-up seeds to my father. I gave him fresh, new seeds because I was so clever." The third son took his father's hand and led him into the garden. "Look father," he said, "look at all the beautiful flowers. I know you love flowers and so I planted the seeds to please you." The father then made his judgment: "Because my first son was too careful, his seeds are dead. My second son was too clever. His seeds are not the same seeds I had given to him." Then, placing his crown on the third son's head, he said, "This son of mine planted the seeds out of simple love for me. He gave me flowers to enjoy and new seeds to be gotten from these blooms. He did this from love and it brought abundance."