The Reign of Christ is the last Sunday in the Church Year. It is the time we celebrate our looking forward to the coming of Jesus at the end of time. We are looking forward to that time when those in right relationship will be separated from those who are not, and gathered into the Kingdom. In today’s Gospel (Matthew 25.31-46) the sheep and goats are separated on the basis of their response to God’s reaching out to them in love. Only those who have responded to God’s love by reaching out to others in need will be invited into the Kingdom. This is the test of our love.
1. Ezekiel (34.11-17, 20-24) describes a God who actively seeks the lost and those in need
Many people seem to have what is called the “clockwork universe” understanding of God. This is the idea that God created the world, wound it up as we used to wind up old mechanical clocks and let it go. From this view we get the idea that God is simply a passive judge who watches our behaviour then judges us. According to this view God does not want a relationship with us and God does not want us to work with Him in caring for other people. This philosophy is actually an excuse for selfishness, avoiding relationship and disregarding God on a daily basis. The Biblical view of God is different. The God of the Bible is always actively intervening in human lives. Ezekiel is just one of many prophets who acted as messengers from God, urging people to act with justice and compassion towards those in need. Ezekiel gives us the hope that God will actively seek out the lost, bring back the strays and bind up the injured. This could be used as a wonderful mission statement for the Church. It is not, as we need to be constantly reminded, “all about us”.
2. Paul prays that the “eyes of their heart will be enlightened” (Ephesians 1.18)
In his time, as in our own, everyone was born spiritually blind. We do not really see or understand what Jesus is saying until our spiritual eyes are opened. I know at least two people who are very intelligent, have read all the books and know all the theology - but their eyes have not been opened. They know in their heads but they do not know in their hearts or personal spirits. This opening of our spiritual eyes is actually a lifelong process. We should never stop growing spiritually. Each of us has to go through a personal experience of having our spiritual eyes opened before we can really understand the depth of what Jesus is saying. Each person needs to personally experience Gods’ love reaching out to them. This is what gives us the motivation and energy to reach out to others in love.
3. In the Gospel (Matthew 25.31-46) Jesus challenges us to reach out to those in need
He is repeating the warning from Ezekiel that those who push and shove to get ahead - without regard for others in need, will be judged and will come to a very bad end. We are given four questions to test our response to God’s love. The first is “Have I fed those who were hungry?”. This is a very practical test of our reaching out to those who need food – including physical, emotional and spiritual food. The next is “Have I given a drink to those who were thirsty?” Do we just focus on our own needs or are we aware of and responding to the needs of those around us? The third question is do we invite strangers in? This tests our love as our natural reaction is to avoid strangers and not include them. Who are the strangers in our community that we have failed to reach out to? The final question is have we visited and cared for the sick and imprisoned? I believe we need to take this farther to include those who have imprisoned themselves in psychology, secularism and wrong religions. Lucille and I went to the film “Water” which is about a Hindu widow. It was an experience of the pain of people imprisoned in a false religion that we will never forget. This challenge might frighten us. We might not feel comfortable with sick people or people who are confused about religion. Again the issue is what have we actually done ourselves to reach out in love?
The Good News is we are not alone
During this special time of the Reign of Christ the Holy Spirit will be with us. We will be guided, strengthened and protected. We must be careful to not be afraid or fall asleep or run out of oil like the Virgins in the previous Parables. We must also be careful to not fall into the traps and lies of the deceiver. Our minds can invent all kinds of excuses. We can be “too busy”, “too tired”, “too unconnected” or “too unaware” of the needs around us. We often fail to proclaim the Good News because we might offend people. But if their house was burning down we would not hesitate to break down the door and drag them outside. Invisible spiritual dangers are just as important. One of my brother priests was told by his Vestry that there was not a drug problem in Banff until he came .This is because we tend to see what we want to see. The consequence is that people - including us, could be assuming that we are in the group of sheep destined for the Kingdom; when in fact we are not. This is where Bible reading and self-examination, and particularly self-examination with the Holy Spirit opening our eyes can be very helpful.
God has reached out to us in love - the question is how have we responded?