In today’s scripture reading, we find Jesus echoing Ezekiel’s prophecy to the Hebrew people. Jesus offers his disciples and us warnings of judgment and a call to righteousness. There is a right way to live, and it has everything to do with feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, clothing the naked, and being present with the prisoner.
Returning to a favorite biblical metaphor of sheep and goats, Jesus is clear that those who do the will of God will live with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven. At first glance, it seems this scripture passage is all about who’s in and who’s out, which can be a bit terrifying for those of us trying to follow the way of Christ.
Today’s passage may tempt us to begin to make a checklist of all the ways we’ve cared for God and God’s people, ensuring our place in heaven and alleviating our fears of judgment and condemnation. And it is easy to worry and wonder, “Are we doing enough to get in?”
But what if we read this scripture passage differently? What if, instead of being about whether we are in or out, the focus shifts to our love and care of others? Perhaps, in offering this dramatic and fearsome proclamation, Jesus means to convey just how passionate he is about the least, the last, the lonely, and the lost.
What if it’s not about us at all? Perhaps shifting the lens from our own worry and fear to the ways we live and love in the world, and thereby offering ourselves to others, is the way of eternal life. How does living in this way change you? How does it change everything?
Jesus, your words shake us to our core, and we thank you. Help us love and serve others as you command; help us trust that what we offer to the least of these, we offer to you. Amen.
The Bible uses metaphors meaningful in its time, and the image of a shepherd and sheep evokes protection, care, and safety. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God declares that all the scattered sheep will be joined together again. The weak and oppressed will receive special protection and justice from God. The psalmist says that the Israelites are the sheep of God’s pasture. In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes the final judgment as separating the sheep (those who are his) from the goats (those who are not). The distinction is made in part based upon how they treated the weakest among them. Although the epistle does not use the imagery of sheep, it describes the promises of a glorious inheritance reserved for those in God’s flock.
Read Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. What does it mean for you that God seeks you as an individual and as part of your faith community?
Read Psalm 100. In times of trial or pain, how do you gather with others to praise God?
Read Ephesians 1:15-23. How do you express gratitude to God and for your faith community?
Read Matthew 25:31-46. How do you sit with unresolved questions of faith? How does asking questions of the Bible strengthen your faith or your comfort in not having answers to your questions?
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