Nov 20, 2011
Christ the King
Matthew 25:31-46 “Parable of the Sheep and Goats.”
Christ is King! Jesus is Lord!
Today we mark the end of the liturgical year with the affirmation that Christ is King; or sometimes this Sunday is called the reign of Christ (“reign” as in the recognition that Christ is ruler over all). Since this is the end of the liturgical year, we have a Gospel parable which offers a scene of the final judgement. A scene of the end time of the end of the year. Christ upon his throne of glory. Sheep separated from goats; good from bad; righteous from unrighteous. It is how they are separated that may be surprising however. Perhaps not surprising for us the readers – of course those who fed, welcomed, and clothed Christ are the righteous ones. Those who did not were not. But both the righteous and unrighteous seemed to be surprised that they were called such.
It is always a challenge preaching this concept in the United States – Christ is King. We don’t have kings in America. We got our start as a country by declaring independence from a king. So there is some hesitancy to talk about kings and kingdoms, and ruling. Probably the closest thing we have to kings in American today might be bosses. Or if you are self-employed, you might think of your customers. No, they don’t have absolute power like kings do. But they can tell you what to do, how to do it and when. If you don’t care for those conditions you find employment elsewhere (or another customer). Some bosses can make you stay for overtime, go out of town for a trip, cut your pay, give you raises, and fire you.
It’s kinda like that CBS show, Undercover Boss. In it a CEO of a rather large company pretends to be a new hire and tires out some of the entry level positions within his or her own company. He gets to meet his employees and see for himself where his business (kingdom?) is running smoothly and where it is not running so smoothly. The CEO is almost always surprised at the hard work of his employees and how well they accomplish the tasks set before them (of course, sometimes they are appalled at their attitudes and actions). At the end of the show, the truly stand apart employees are called into corporate headquarters to meet who they thought was just a fellow employee only to discover that it was the CEO! They are rewarded for doing a good job, not because they were being watched by the CEO but because it was the right thing to do.
I love how both the sheep and the goats are surprised in this parable. These people did not act because of a reward, or because they were being watched. They clothed the naked (or not), fed the hungry (or not), welcomed (or not), and visited (or not) because it was just part of their very nature. How very surprising indeed when Christ identifies with that naked, hungry, stranger who is in jail. Surprising.
The big difference between bosses and kings though, is that you get to decide whether or not you are under the rule of a boss. If you get fed up or find a better offer you can quit and walk off the job – thus declaring that the boss is no longer yours. Generally though, it is difficult to get out of being a royal subject short of a revolution. In our parable there are folks who submit themselves to the kingdom of Christ, and there are those who don’t. The difference between being in the kingdom or not is how Christ’s followers serve the needy among them.
We hear about the end of the world all the time. Just in my life time I can think of a handful of end of the world declarations. The Hale-bop Comet, Y2K. May 21, 2011 (later revised to Oct 21, 2011). We’re still here. As Christians we do believe that Christ will come again to judge the righteous from the unrighteous and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But it sure does get tiring to hear all of these false prophecies. And at a point it is easy to not take the second coming seriously. This parable is an answer to those concerns. Again, remember we are at a place in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is facing his crucifixion and he began to preach to his disciples about the end time. Looking at the temple he declared “Not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.” And the disciples of course ask “When will this happen?” Jesus goes into a long description about the end time, and then our set of three parables.
It is this one, the parable of the sheep and goats, that I think answers the question “when will your kingdom come.” Jesus, when will your kingdom come? Well, there are sheep and goats; and you see I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Come you are blessed, inherit the kingdom!
The kingdom of God has come. It is not a place, there are no palaces, and you cannot see it. The kingdom of God is where Christ’s people do his will. And the king dwells with those in need.