“Then the righteous (the sheep) will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?… Then those on his left (the goats) 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?’ Matthew 25:37, 44
We have come to the end of another church year—a year that has been most difficult for our world and our churches—our local communities of faith. In the virus restrictions, we have lost being able to gather for worship and many of us have lost opportunities to help others directly and face-to-face. Sometimes we find our minds wondering where God is and what, if anything, God might be trying to teach/show us in this time.
Now comes Jesus’ story on the last Sunday of the church year about the sheep and goats and serving those among us who are most marginalized—the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked and those who are sick or imprisoned. (Reality check—we all know that the pandemic has drawn our attention daily to the needs of these marginalized people in our midst who are suffering even more than most of us are right now.)
David Lose in his commentary (here) sees this story as an example of visible grace—like the way we understand the sacraments as “visible words”—actions of God promised in Jesus’ teachings where God’s love is delivered to us through common things like water, bread, and wine. Moreover, he notes that God does this in surprising ways—both the “sheep” and the “goats” were surprised in the ways they had served or not served God’s purposes. It was in their relationships (or lack thereof) to those whom they encountered who were most in need—and that encounter is ever-changing with the situations in which we find ourselves living.
So, Lose’s insight here is that God shows up most visibly to us “connected to actual, physical bodies and circumstances. Want to see Jesus? Look to the needs of your neighbor and, especially, your most vulnerable neighbors.”
The doorbell rings. I open the door. There stands a young neighbor boy and his younger sister, both with face coverings and standing at a distance offering us a beautiful, fresh Christmas wreath for our home in exchange for our support for his youth soccer. Yes, and Jesus looking over the children’s shoulders—and ours too.
Bonita and I fret over not being able to serve a Thanksgiving meal at a homeless shelter as we have done on several occasions in the past. Then the opportunity arises for us to prepare simple breakfast food items and deliver them to another shelter. Jesus mingles among the people there and we get a glimpse of him if we take the time to look.
We watch on TV the long lines at food bank distribution places all over our country. Then on a quick trip to a grocery store, as I am checking out, Jesus steps in beside the cashier and with her offers me an opportunity to give a gift to support the food banks’ efforts.
Where is God in all that is happening around us every day? Grace is visible and God is with us offering us multiple opportunities to share our lives with our neighbors and especially our most vulnerable neighbors.
Here at the end of the church year in what are still dark and foreboding days, God still keeps showing up with “just one more surprise” time and again where we least expect to meet him. (Thanks to John C. Ylvisaker from his hymn, “Borning Cry.”)
O God of surprises, open our eyes to see you as you move in and about our world every day in so many persons and places where we don’t expect to encounter you. Help us to share our lives in ways that lift up and make sacred the life and spirit that you put in all of us. Amen.