Matthew 25:31-46

“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. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then 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; for 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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And 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.’ Then 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 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.’ Then they also 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?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Again, the traditional interpretation seems apparent, although, truth be told, with a bit of a twist. For conservatives, this seems an affirmation that, to borrow from James, faith without works is dead. For liberals, it’s the particular kind of work – that is, taking care of the poor and disenfranchised. But, also, again, I’d like to ask a question about this parable: why is everyone surprised by the judgment of the Son of Man?

Did you notice that? Both those praised for caring for the Son of Man and those condemned for not caring respond with the same measure of confusion: Lord, when did we…?

Both groups, that is, are surprised by what the Son of Man says. Why? Because neither expected the Son who comes in glory to be present and available to them in the face of “the least of these.” Each, that is, imagined that the Son of Man would come in strength, power, might, and glory, and yet Jesus – in this parable and in the days to come during his Passion – reveals that he comes to us instead in weakness, vulnerability, brokenness, and shame.

Jesus comes, that is, in a way that is accessible to us, to meet us in our need.

Perhaps this parable isn’t as much about us as it is about God, about where God is available – not at the end of time waiting on a royal throne in glory, but right now, nearly everywhere we look, in the need of those around us. Which means that each and every day we can encounter the living and real presence of God as we reach out to care for the needs of our neighbor and have our needs met in turn.

This is, indeed, a surprise. But a glorious one.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to look for you in the face of our neighbor, that in caring for others we discover the joy and glory of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.