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; 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, 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.’ 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 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, you did it to me.’(Matthew 25:34-40, NRSV)
I am preparing to preach on this text and here are my initial thoughts. In this text Jesus shocks and scares his audience, because stakes are high. This part of the chapter got titled “The Judgment of the Nations” for a reason, so not everyone wins. You know what happens to those called goats. So what does Jesus suggests for all those who aspire to jump on the sheep wagon?
Here are my preachable discoveries from working through the Greek text:
v. 34 “eulogemenoi (blessed) by my Father” – This is the verb where English “eulogy” derives from. So it is not just blessed, but also “praised” and even “made prosperous.”
v. 35 “I was a stranger and you sunegagete (welcomed) me” – Yes, it is the verb where “synagogue” comes from. Possible translations are: to gather, to join, to invite, to reconcile.
v. 36 “esthenesa (I was sick)” also could be translated as weak, powerless, disabled, in economic need.
“ and you epeskepsasthe (took care) of me” – visited, looked after, cared for.
Let’s remember the context of where the text comes from. Diseases were rampant in the ancient world due to the poor hygiene, contaminated water and food, crammed living quarters, and primitive state of medicine. On top of that the economy of the Roman Empire left the majority of its population under or at subsistence level. Many of those who lived above of subsistence level could easily be knocked down by bad harvest, war, natural disaster or accident. Poverty was the reality of life for the majority of folks. Prisons were filled with people who could not pay their debts. So when Jesus mentions people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison, he describes people who the disciples lived with and encountered every single day. Some of the disciples were at some point of time experiencing one of these. So Jesus urges them to just look around, no need to travel far to find one of these. So in my sermon I will encourage people to look around at those sitting next to them, think of people in their neighborhoods, families whose kids go to the same schools and clubs. There is hunger, and thirst, and brokenness everywhere (btw Greek allows for figurative use of these words, not just literal).
Next shocking move that Jesus takes is transforming God-self into all who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison. All-powerful God above all is also God who is one with the least of us – those who are brought down by their life, who lost any hope, who are discouraged, depressed. I will make a point about the huge problem of mental illness in our society today, when I bring the text to our congregation.
So paraphrasing this passage, you could say, “Look around at each other, at your families, your neighbors, your friends. All of us are broken and in need. And God is here among us, God knows about all our pains, fears, defeats. As you look around and recognize in people the same brokenness that you yourself carry, now do something.”
I will encourage our church to dream about what would we be like, if no-one remained unseen, forgotten, ignored. What if everyone’s pain and need was recognized by others who also hurt and struggle. What if we grow in our transformation to be Christ-like, to be able to see Christ in others.”
Here are discussion questions that I will offer to our Grace Groups to talk about during the week:
- Share a story when someone’s pain or struggle really resonated with you on a very personal and deep level.
- Where and when do you meet new people and develop meaningful relationships with them?
- How could Healthy Plate Discipleship framework (worship, learn, serve, pray, give, pray) sharpen our vision to see Christ in others among their need and brokenness?
Click here to see my sermon at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, TX.