Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Joshua 3:1-13, Romans 11:25-36, Matthew 25:31-46
In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, a king judges and divides all the nations of the world – blessed sheep on his right hand and accursed goats on his left. To the sheep he says: “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.” The sheep ask when they did these things for him, and he explains whenever they did it for the least of his brothers, they did it for him. How we understand this message hinges on how we understand Jesus’s use of “brothers.”
Many hear a call to social justice, to consider all who are in need the brothers (and sisters) of Christ. Scripture – in both Old and New Testament passages – certainly calls us to show mercy and hospitality to the poor and marginalized, so this reading seems in character. Others focus on how “brother” is used elsewhere in Matthew, and associate it with “follower.” Under this interpretation, the story is about the consequences of how people receive specifically the disciples and – by extension – preachers of the Gospel. The second camp is concerned the first camp promotes a social gospel reducing salvation to a list of specific good works. The first camp calls this an oversimplification of their position and claims those who truly receive Christ respond to those in need.
Between these camps lies the beauty of parables, which are open to interpretation. Not to say we can impose whatever meaning suits our current whim, or that Jesus’s intent is unimportant, but that more than one aspect of the truth can be revealed. Is it not vital to welcome the Gospel and aid its bearers? And once we do so, will we not view our relationship to “the least” in a new light that inspires us to serve them? Our relationship to the Gospel is inseparable from our relationship to the world.
Comfort: You can’t go wrong welcoming the Gospel and serving the needy.
Challenge: Our fellow Christians, who have different understandings of the Gospel than we do, can be the hardest not to judge. Make it a point this week to engage such people in conversation, with the intent only of understanding, not persuading.
Prayer: Gracious and Merciful God, grant me the patience and humility to understand the lessons of scripture. Amen.
Discussion: Is there one interpretation of this parable you prefer over the other? Is it the same one you feel is more “authentic?”
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