Just for all of you who won’t get a chance to hear it….(Uncle Paul, who helped me out, dared me to post it on Facebook. I thought this was pretty much the same, only better.)
Gospel Text: Matthew 25:31-46
I grew up on a farm in the Cottonwood, Minnesota zip code. My dad raises pigs on the side of managing all his crops. I grew up volunteering to help him count pigs when new ones would come in. First, we would get a count of how many pigs we were working with. Then, we would sort them by size into pens, separated out the sick or not-so-good looking ones and put them in a separate pen by themselves. Then we would count them up again to make sure it was the same number and record how many pigs were in each pen for later comparison. I always understood why we separated them—you don’t want them all mixed together. If the sick are with the healthy, pretty soon they’re all sick. And separating them by size? Well, that’s just common sense.
Jesus likes farm analogies, as well. The sower who sows (or, the farmer who plants), the shepherds who watch their flock (or, the farmers who get up at 5am to do chores in the morning)…that, I can sorta relate to. It’s what I know, which is probably why I use farm analogies at times, as well. I like them. But sometimes, when it comes to these analogies…eh. Like the gospel today. “He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd seperates sheep from the goats.” I understand the common sense of sorting livestock, but when I am being sorted? Nope, don’t like it. It’s kind of offensive, don’t you think? And, in no way is that politically correct. Just WHO does God think He IS, anyway? Ugh. When they separated us in 4-H, it was usually to take out the losers so that they could get a better look and the worthy. And when they separate us in school, by classes (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), you know who gets the better end of the deal and who is more favored. Never a good thing, unless you were the privileged enough to have a ticket on the top level of the Titanic.
Then the secret thoughts are how you can ensure to be sorted into the “good guy” pen. We remember all those selfless things we’ve done. And we can keep TRYING! Maybe score some extra God points? “Be nice to the people I think are icky, do good stuff for those who aren’t as awesome as I am.” HOLD UP. If you know ANYTHING about Jesus, that’s not really the kind of stuff He talks about. Other people tell us that, sometimes even using this text, but really. We hear it from tons of places. Who needs the Son of God to tell us to be nice?
All through the gospels Jesus is questioned; there is protest of pretty much everything Jesus says. [whiney voice] “But Jesus!” they say. “WHEN did we see you sick or hungry or ugly or [something else]?” Ha. The righteous don’t even know they’re serving God with their actions. SHOCKER. They’re just doing what they do.
The Son of God is our shepherd, the farmer who treats his livestock well. He leads us and finds us when we get lost. He goes after every single one of us, and leaves the 99 to search for just 1! Yeah, sometimes He even lets those who aren’t his stay awhile, so they can stay warm and comfy. But don’t you WANT to be His? When we ask Jesus into our hearts, Christ dwells within us. We become righteous and we become His. Our Shepherd carries us when we have no strength to carry on by ourselves. He takes our burdens and our worries and takes them away. He takes care of everything, if we let Him. He is our protector and provider, our hope and our delight. We become imitators of Christ, and follow in His footsteps. Stanley Hauerwas, a commentator on the book of Matthew writes, “The difference between followers of Jesus and those who do not know Jesus is that those who have seen Jesus no longer have any excuse to avoid ‘the least of these.’”
Followers of Jesus are “in the zone” and just do what they do. It just flows from them. And it flows, not to GOD, but to other people.
So, we don’t have to TRY to get into the “good guy pen” any longer. Jesus already has his claim on YOU. YOU are His. The same grace that raised Christ from the dead brought you new life, and in baptism, God keeps his promises to YOU. Think about it– Forgiving, loving, dying– all for YOU! We don’t have to keep TRYING or IMPRESSING God. He already knows us better than we know ourselves. There is no such thing as “God points.” So, why don’t we re-direct that energy and freedom into something like, well, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, finding the lost, loving the unloved…right?