by Robert Brow (www.brow.ca)
Read Matthew 25:31-46.
Some people think this parable refers to our individual responsibility to care for the poor, refugees, the sick, prisoners. There is a truth in that, as we will see in a moment. But Jesus is speaking about the way he judges nations. Notice how the parable begins. "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. All nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31-32).
There is nothing new about that. The Old Testament prophets kept describing how the Messiah, King of kings, and Lord of lords, kept judging the performance of Israel, Syria, Moab, Ammon, Babylon, and other nations. Every nation faces times of crisis, which the prophets called days of the Lord. France and Russia faced judgment when they both had terrible revolutions, Germany had two world wars, Japan was judged when atom bombs flattened two of its cities.
What counts is the way a nation deals with weak and oppressed people. He feels for the hungry, the refugees, the poor, the sick, those in prison. "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" (Matthew 25:35-36).
So if you want to evaluate a nation, look at its slums, the refugees and minorities, single parents trying to clothe their children, the hospitals, the way prisoners are treated. Jesus wants us to know that if a nation oppresses the weakest people in its society, it is only a matter of time before the Son of God will judge them.
In the previous parable, he used the picture of an individual being dumped on the gehenna garbage dump over the south of Jerusalem (Matthew 25:30). Here he pictures a nation being trashed for its inhumanity. The eternal punishment (verse 46) does not. refer to the eternal damnation of individuals but the long term severe judgment of a nation.
Does this mean that the parable is nothing to do with you and me as private citizens? Well, obviously a nation is made up of individuals. It is individuals who make sure the hungry have food. Individuals welcome refugees and strangers. Citizens can ensure that poor children can be clothed, and insist on prisoners being treated in a humane way.
And the amazing thing is that anything we do for one needy person is appreciated by Jesus himself. "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (25:40). You remember Jesus said "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me" (Acts 9:4). Every time he beat up a Christian family Jesus himself felt their pain. And right now many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries are being treated abominably. I am glad that Jesus takes note of that.
The parable is not to make us despair about the terrible needs of the world. Nor is it designed to make us feel guilty that we are doing so little. We can thank God that, compared with the oppression in many countries, Canada offers a huge amount of freedom and compassion. Let's make sure we keep it that way. Our simple task is to take care of one person in need of our love, and God can extend that blessing to others and to our nation.
We may not notice what we are doing. "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?" (25:37-39). But Jesus notices what we have done, and makes us a blessing to our nation.
Perhaps we should add that people who meet as a church congregation
encourage one another in doing this, and by working together the blessing
is multiplied. What you do here in St. John's, Storrington, has a bigger
impact on Canada than you imagine.