TITLE: Doing Something Special for Jesus SCRIPTURE: Matthew 25:31-46
Wouldn't you like to do something special for Jesus! Something wonderful! Something that he would really appreciate!
Wouldn't you like to have been one of the shepherds, coming to pay your respects at the stable -- going away to tell others about Jesus?
Wouldn't you like to have been one of the Wise Men, bringing the baby Jesus a princely present? What kind of present would you have brought him -- a crib mattress -- a handmade quilt -- a laptop computer?
Wouldn't you like to have walked with Jesus for a day -- to carry water for him to drink -- to fix him lunch along the road?
Wouldn't it be nice to have Jesus here with us today? If he were to walk through our door this morning, I am sure that he would quickly be surrounded by good Christian folk -- each determined to get him a cup of coffee or a comfortable chair. Wouldn't you like to take Jesus to lunch today?
Our scripture tells us that we can do that -- or something very much like that. We can do something special for Jesus! Something wonderful! Something that he will appreciate! Something for which he will reward us!
In our Gospel lesson, the setting is Judgment Day -- the end of time. It shows Jesus coming in all his glory -- not like the first time when he came as a baby. Next time, he will come in all his glory -- a king on his throne -- surrounded by angels. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will divide them into two groups, which Jesus calls sheep and goats -- the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
And he will say to the sheep:
"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."
But they will ask, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?"
And the king will say:
"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."
But he didn't say, "the least of these who are members of my family." He said, "the least of these, my brothers." The NRSV is committed to inclusive language, and "brothers" is not inclusive. In some cases that sort of change is not important, but in this case it is. The word "brothers" is often used in the New Testament to refer to Christian brothers -- or Christian brothers and sisters. Because Jesus promises a blessing here to those who show mercy to "one of the least of these, my brothers," that gives us reason to believe that he wants us to show mercy to each other -- to Christian brothers and sisters -- to members of the faith.
Furthermore, a bit earlier in this Gospel, Jesus sent his disciples on a mission. He gave them instructions not to take money or other provisions. They were to rely on the hospitality of those to whom they took the Gospel. Jesus said:
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me....
and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones...truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward" (10:40-42).
That sounds very much like our text, doesn't it? In both places, Jesus promises rewards to those who give even a cup of water to disciples who are proclaiming the Gospel.
And he curses those who fail to give the cup of cold water. That should serve as a warning to us. Sometimes we Christians don't treat each other very well. We often have different opinions, which is fine. But sometimes we allow those differing opinions to turn us against each other -- to hurt each other -- to undercut the work of our Christian brother -- to injure the reputation of our Christian sister. Sometimes we fail to support those who are trying to proclaim the Gospel -- pastors, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, youth workers. Sometimes we act as if their concerns were none of ours.
If we do that -- if we work to undercut our Christian brothers and sisters -- if we fail to help those who are proclaiming the Word -- if we fail to show each other small mercies -- Jesus says that he will withhold his blessings from us and will offer only curses. "Depart from me into the eternal fire," he says.
"For I was hungry and you gave me no food.
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not give me clothing,
sick and in prison and you did not visit me."
And we will say:
"Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked
or sick or in prison,
and did not take care of you?"
And Jesus will answer,
"Truly, I tell you,
just as you did NOT do it to one of the least of these,
you did NOT do it to me."*
So I would advise you to treat your Christian brother and sister well. You will almost certainly, on occasion, find a Christian brother or sister that you don't like very well. At the very least, Jesus calls us to treat such people with unfailing courtesy. He calls us to watch for opportunities when we can extend to them a cup of cold water -- or a bowl of hot soup -- or a helping hand -- or our prayers. He calls us to see in their face his face.
In essence, Jesus is telling us that, while we cannot help him directly, he will regard our kind deeds offered to Christian brothers and sisters as if they were rendered to him personally. So if you would like to do something special for Jesus today, he tells us to do something special for our Christian brothers and sisters. He will count that as if we had done the favor for him personally.
The question arises, did Jesus intend us to understand that he will bless us only for those kindnesses shown to other Christians? Many biblical scholars believe this to be the case. But I am persuaded by Jesus' personal witness that he will bless us for any kindness shown to any person, regardless of creed. Jesus healed all sorts of people -- some who asked for it and some who didn't -- some of whom showed faith and some of whom did not -- some of whom were his Jewish brothers and sisters and some of whom were Gentiles. That suggests to me that he will bless us for kindnesses shown to any person.
The blessings that Jesus promised in our text are blessings that we will see in the future -- at the end of time -- as Jesus comes again to usher us into eternity. His promise is that we will inherit a kingdom prepared for us "from the foundation of the world." I like that phrase, "from the foundation of the world," because it says to me that God intended from the very beginning to bless us -- to save us -- to bring us home to live with him in splendor. That is a great promise, and we should look forward to it expectantly.
But sometimes God seems unable to restrain his enthusiasm for blessing us. While our text promises rewards in the future, sometimes God rewards us right now for the small mercies that we render to others.
Madeleine L'Engle is a popular author. She published her first work in 1944 and her most recent work this year (2005). Some of you might be familiar with her work.
Her book, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, chronicles her mother's struggle with old age, but it includes a lovely story about her great grandmother, whose name was Mado. Mado came from Raleigh, North Carolina, which was ravaged by the Civil War. She had been living elsewhere, but returned to Raleigh after the war to help her parents who were quietly starving to death -- literally starving to death -- because they had lost everything in the war.
But then something happened that reminded me of Jesus' words, "as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me."
Years earlier, Mado and her husband had lived in Washington Territory, where they had become friends with General Custer. At Custer's recommendation, they had hired a cook who was the wife of one of Custer's soldiers. Life on the frontier was harsh, and people sometimes treated each other harshly -- but Mado treated her cook not as a servant but as a friend. They each felt blessed by the other. The war, of course, separated them and they did not see each other for quite some time, but tried to stay in touch.
During the war, the cook's husband received a commission. After the war, he received orders to serve as Captain of the Garrison in Raleigh. His wife, formerly a servant, was now a lady.
When they got to Raleigh, the wife determined to find her old friend, Mado. The Captain hitched up a commissary wagon, and they went searching. They were shocked to find Mado and her family in such distress. They quickly provided much-needed food. Madeleine L'Engle says:
"It makes me wonder what harvest my own most casual actions may reap; surely Mado never thought that her instinctive loving courtesy to all people would one day be a matter of life and death.
Her little daughter, my grandmother, might well have died without the food the captain's lady brought, and I would not be here to write about any of this today."
"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.
And then he says:
"Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
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