... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

The Reign of Christ Year A, Message Nov 20th, 2011

Christ the King and Our Relationship

Text: Matthew 25:31-46

On this, the final Sunday of the church year, we come to the last of the Kingdom parables concerning the day of judgement and the final separation of the sheep and goats or the wheat from the weeds. While the text of the Gospel has been a favourite for calling congregations to social awareness and the plight of the hungry, the thirsty the stranger and the disenfranchised the main thrust is on the identity of Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man. In the context of the entire chapter the closing parable highlights the chief character as the one who does the sorting – the one who judges. The emphasis is not on the makeup of who comprises the sheep or the goats, although there is a message in that as I will later explain. What however is most noteworthy is that neither the sheep nor the goats had recognized Jesus. “Lord, when was it we saw you hungry?” is the question both groups ask. Neither had seen him.

In seminary one of the frequently debated topics was whether we would recognize Jesus if he were to appear among us today. Many in my class stated they would. My earnest belief was that I wouldn’t because I would be so busy at other things, I probably wouldn’t be able to. And I dare say this would be true for 99.99% of us. A case in point: On Friday January 12, 2007 the Washington Post arranged an experiment to look at this very concept. Engaging the help of Joshua Bell (anybody recognize the name? Joshua Bell is one of the world’s great violinists a child prodigy he has been called a musical genius) they hatched their plan. At 43 years of age he has been the guest violinist at most if not all the major symphony orchestras around the globe. On this cold January morning, dressed in jeans and a black shirt he took up a position at L’Enfant Metro Station in Washington. Uncasing his 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius he began playing one of the most difficult violin compositions ever written, “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No.2 in D minor. It’s 14 minutes long and few violinists have ever been able to succeed at playing it let alone master it. During the performance it was noted some 1100 people passed by, only four of whom stopped to listen and then only for a minute or so. Some people tossed a few coins into the violin case; but most simply ignored him. Can you imagine the chagrin of those people when the story was aired the next day? The opportunity to hear one of the greatest violinists playing some of the world’s greatest compositions, and they had missed it. Sure, some will say they would have loved to stay but had too many other things to worry about or appointments to meet. But the fact remains not one of these recognized the man, or fully appreciated what had been offered.

What had been offered was not action or social justice deeds and actions but a relationship – an opportunity to revel in the emotional bliss of something that touches the core of our being and soul.

Jesus in his judgement and sorting of the sheep and goats was not a commentary on a work ethic or even on a doctrine of good works as many have taken this passage to mean. In fact the insistence that this passage represents a philosophy of salvation through good works fails to take into account the rest of the Gospel and especially the three preceding parables. However in light of relationships, this story unites the three others as a culmination of right relationships.

First of all it shows that God is not some distant detached omnipotent being, out there somewhere beyond the borders of the universe. God is here among us in all the sordid reality diseases and abuses we suffer and inflict. God is present in the here and now, reaching out, offering relationship and presenting opportunities to enter into the lives of neighbours. The second radical aspect of this passage is that it condemns our business ethics and our actions, particularly toward one another. Just as in Jesus’ time, the political social religious and secular milieu is such that we commit terrible atrocities against one another. We hardly ever consider the ramifications of our actions or our ideas. In the news lately we have been hearing a lot about the Occupy London and Occupy Toronto movement and their call for governmental action against the wealthy. We hear of efforts to evict the people and their retaliation. What we don’t hear is the concerns re: public health, vandalism the adversarial posturing, resulting in broken relationships that have been occurring. Yes, their call for ethical governmental practices needs to be heard. Yes, their pointing out the decline of the middle class is real, but their actions have led to many hardships on small businesses, on private property and on individuals. Each side has been doing things harmful to the other, and so both are equally guilty of subverting the relationship God has been trying to foster with us.

This brings us to the third important topic of this passage – the personal relationship God is inviting each of us into. This is not a social justice passage or a compassionate plea for the plight of the world’s poor – It is a passage of a love relationship with our Creator. God wishes nothing more than to have us open ourselves to the redeeming love as displayed for us in Christ Jesus. As we come into that realization accept it and incorporate it into our everyday lives and we will experience true and authentic human life. Then in that experience we may indeed see the face of Jesus in everyone we meet, empathize with their journey, rejoice in their accomplishments and walk with them on their spiritual pilgrimage.

It is only when we come to experience the relationship with our neighbours that our efforts in the cause of social justice, the plight of the poor or the empowerment of the disenfranchised can take on meaning. When we do things out of a sense of duty or are forced by dictates to engage in various activities those actions become chores, representing enslavement. On the other hand when those same activities are embraced with passion and inward desire they become a reason for being and acts of love. As a simple illustration, when I was in school we were forced to read Shakespeare plays and those plays became chores, and much despised by the class. In Grade 10 however, our literature teacher opened our eyes to the humour, the passion and, the dynamics in Shakespeare’s writings. As we journeyed through the Merchant of Venice a whole different outlook was experienced – even to the point where reading his comedies became a passion and source of great enjoyment.

Such is the contrast in our whole lives when we approach our relationship with one another. Done out of sense of duty or moral requirement we will forever be enslaved. However out of an experience with God’s love those same activities become a source of passion enjoyment and freedom. We may or may not see the face of Jesus in everyone we then meet, but I can assure you Jesus will see us.

May we so come to experience the love of God in our lives, that we become passionate about our relationship one to another so as to reflect the light of God into the world, bringing glory to God and benefit to all humanity.