Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Matthew 25

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: 40)

As a denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), we are currently embracing the Matthew 25 vision, caring for members of Jesus’ family – the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. In the milieu of the United States, this call has been translated into dismantling structural racism, ending systemic poverty, and building congregational vitality. It is a wonderful initiative spearheaded by Rev. Dr. Dianne Moffett, Executive Director and President of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the umbrella agency of Presbyterian World Mission with whom we serve. Congregations across the land are heeding this significant call to cross socio-economic and cultural barriers to behold and become the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ (3 minute invitation video here).

A couple of weeks ago I preached from Matthew 25 at our chapel service at Nile Theological College here in South Sudan. After the scripture was read, I asked the students to tell us what they heard and what they felt. Most of the responses were somewhat typical. Students felt compelled to action; they had a choice. They sensed that God wanted them to see the marginalized and needy as members of His family. One student, Linda, had an interesting insight. She described how African cultures tend to prioritize the needs of the ancestors, the “living dead.” She described how Africans must remember the ancestors, pay respect to them, and even provide food and sacrifices to them, otherwise they may feel the wrath of the ancestors. But here in Matthew 25, Jesus is not talking about the ‘living dead’, He is talking about the living. As I gave us a moment to reflect on Linda’s insight, it felt like a light-bulb had switched on in the minds and hearts of students. While not neglecting those who have gone before us, our priority, says Jesus, is always for those who are still with us, those who are suffering and needy…these are the ones to whom we must give attention and priority.

Last week, on our way home from visiting friends, Kristi and I stopped by Suk Malakia, the small market across from our building to buy some fruit and vegetables. As we faced Alima who was handing Kristi a bunch of carrots, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned and there he was. I was tongue tied. I could not remember his name. I felt awful. He stood tall, self-possessed, silent like a sentinel, missing one leg from the snake bite incurred near his village. Of course, it was Grovener! I fumbled with a series of greetings in Arabic, somehow feeling “small” in relation to Grovener’s stature, his innocence, his meekness, his obvious need, being homeless like so many other children here in Juba. As always, Grovener was gracious towards me, greeting me with a gentle smile, expressing kindness. Standing before me was a child of God, a son of the King, a brother to Jesus. The manner in which we receive the "Groveners of our world" says everything about who we are and the fate “the king” will one day pronounce over the two groups of people, the sheep and the goats.

Jesus’ message from Matthew 25 is stark. It is final. It is the point of no return. As one my students said to all of us at chapel, “Yes, but we still have time.” Yes, we still have time to choose rightly, to be sheep and not goats, to heed the call of Jesus, to welcome the marginalized and poor with outstretched arms and open, loving hearts.

1 comment:

Jim Berger said...

Thank you.

I will share with my church.