The Rule Follower
By nature, I am a rule follower. I like to do the right thing and I hate getting in trouble. When I was growing up, especially in school, I wanted to make sure I did everything right. The fear of having the teacher call me out for doing something wrong was paralyzing, so I always made sure to follow the rules.
With my deep anxiety about getting things right and not making mistakes, I can remember reading this parable or hearing it read in church and panicking every single time. Was I actually doing this whole “Christian thing” right? Was I feeding enough people? This felt hard to my younger self - how was I meant to do this? I’m still a kid! I certainly was not visiting people in prison. And no, I had never invited a perfect stranger into my house, I was not sure that would have gone over well with my mother.
I have to admit that even now I struggle sometimes wondering if I’m hitting the mark. I know how to cook. I have a home to invite people into. I have more than enough clothes to give to those who have less. And now my school has a partnership with a local correctional facility so I could even visit the prisoner. Am I doing it right? Am I a sheep or a goat?
I wonder if in all my years of living I have focused on the wrong thing. Perhaps this parable is less complicated than we often make it out to be. Perhaps it isn’t about hitting the mark or feeding the most people. I think it is about really believing that Jesus is in and among all people. Every single one of them.
How might we respond if we believed Jesus was the man standing at the corner asking for anything to help his hungry family? What might our attitude be toward the prisoner be if we believed she was Jesus? Would we think differently about greeting a stranger if we thought we were greeting Jesus?
The stakes seem high in this parable, but I don’t think Jesus is asking us to move mountains. I think Jesus is asking us to pay attention. To have eyes that are not afraid to meet another’s. I think Jesus is asking us to believe that our small acts of faithfulness matter. Jesus is asking us to believe that he is everywhere we go, including, and perhaps even especially, the places we might least expect to find him.
As we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger, we are welcoming the Kingdom of God and welcoming sheep into the fold. One of my favorite songwriters, Sara Groves, says it this way:
In the mundane tasks of living
In the pouring out and giving
In the waking up and trying
In the laying down and dying
That’s a little stone, that’s a little mortar
That’s a little seed, that’s a little water
In the hearts of the sons and daughters
This Kingdom’s coming
The invitation is to see people. To notice them. To believe that Jesus is here among us inviting us to know him even more by knowing and loving our neighbors. So friends, in your seemingly mundane tasks of living this week, in your waking up and trying, my prayer is that you know that Jesus is very present. My prayer is that we show up with expectation knowing it is Jesus we are serving.
Grace & Peace,
The Judgment of the Nations
31 “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. 32 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, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 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; 35 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, 36 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.’ 37 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? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 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,[a]you did it to me.’ 41 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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’ 44 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?’ 45 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”