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When Did I See You, Lord?

November 21, 2020

Too often when the church has used the passage from Matthew 25:31-46 the focus has been on judging the goats and sending them into eternal punishment while the righteous will gain eternal life. (Matthew 25:46) Instead of looking at this parable through the lens of personal salvation, I believe we should look at both Matthew 25:31-46 and Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 through the lens of our responsibilities as a people of faith to the larger world and all of God’s people. To do this means that we must take Genesis 1:27 seriously. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 

In Ezekiel we see the comparison between God and the good shepherd which echoes Psalm 23. Jesus would later use that analogy to describe his own ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Ezekiel was writing in the context of the diaspora or scattering of the people of Israel. The kings of Israel had been charged with Shepherding God’s children and that history went all the way back to Samuel anointing Saul as the first King of Israel. The people wanted a king because everyone else in the region had one. For some reason, this reminds me of the childhood argument “but EVERYONE else has one” or “but EVERYONE else gets to do it.” Were the people pouting or did they somehow feel inferior to their neighbors? God only knows (literally) but history would prove that this was the wrong answer. Over time the kings would foul things up and the result was the land being conquered and the people being exiled and enslaved. They weren’t exactly the picture of a perfect or even a good shepherd. 

Ezekiel shares God’s promise with the people that they would be gathered together and brought home. God will, according to Ezekiel, judge the people/flock. The judgment will be between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. This judgment would not only be a judgment of the “shepherds,” it will be a judgment of the people. This is indeed troublesome for me, but understandable in the context of the original setting. Just as Joshua told the people to choose this day whom they would serve, the gods and idols, or the Lord God who brought them out of the land of Egypt; the people of the exile had chosen whom they would worship while away from their home. The sheep were regathered but only the ones who had kept their allegiance to the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be “saved”. 

A bit earlier in the passage Ezekiel said that the Shepherd (God) would bring them to good grazing land (again, there are parallels to Psalm 23). Additionally, the promise of the Shepherd (God) is to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. (Ezekiel 35:14-16) Who were the fat and the strong at the end of verse 16? The ones who will be fed with God’s justice. That would be the ruling elite and those who bowed to their captors and abandoned the people they were charged with caring for. They had abandoned their people in order to save their skins and cozy up with the Empire. 

When we turn to Matthew 25:31-46, we once again see judgment. Jesus was very clear about the judgment criteria and why some had ignored their calling. The goats had chosen to take care of themselves in a “me first” sort of way instead of caring for others. This applied to the religious and ruling elite as well as to the rest of God’s children. The criteria centered around their treatment of others. Did you feed the hungry? Did you give the thirsty water? Did you welcome the stranger? Did you clothe the naked? Did you care for those who were sick? Did you visit and care for the prisoner? While the “self-righteous me-first” goats wondered aloud where the Son of Man had been, those with servant hearts had done the work of God without even knowing that they were serving the Son of Man.

Friends, we are called to be servants, not self-serving. Instead of taking the “me first” approach, we are called to take the “us” approach that includes all of God’s children (Imago Dei). The Presbyterian Church (USA) has taken the “us” approach in their call to the churches to be a Matthew 25 church. The denomination is challenging us to see this as an issue of Social Justice where caring for all of God’s children should be our primary concern. 

One Comment
  1. pynkoski2 permalink

    Michael, thanks for this.

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