Jumping on the Sheep Wagon

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 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 25:34-40, NRSV)

As I prepare to preach on this text in the Sanctuary service this Sunday, I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts. In this text, Jesus shocks and scares his audience, because stakes are high.

This part of the Gospel of Matthew was titled, “The Judgment of the Nations” for a reason — not everyone wins. You know what happens to those called goats, right? If you don’t keep reading, but — spoiler alert — it was not good! The sheep, however, fared much better. So, what does Jesus suggest for all those who aspire to jump on the sheep wagon?

Here are my preachable discoveries from working through the Greek text of this passage:

  • v. 34 “eulogemenoi (blessed) by my Father” — This is the verb the English word, eulogy, derives from. So, in this usage it means not just “blessed,” but also “praised” and even “made prosperous.”
  • v. 35 “I was a stranger and you sunegagete (welcomed) me” — Yes, you guessed it; this the verb synagogue comes from. Possible translations also include: to gather, to join, to invite, to reconcile.
  • v. 36 “esthenesa (I was sick)” also could be translated as weak, powerless, disabled, in economic need. So, the phrase, “and you epeskepsasthe (took care) of me” means “you visited, looked after, cared for me.”

It’s also important to remember the socioeconomic context of this text. Diseases were rampant in the ancient world due to poor hygiene, contaminated water and food, cramped living quarters, and primitive state of medicine. On top of that, the economy of the Roman Empire left the majority of its population under or at subsistence level.

For those who did live above the subsistence level, a bad harvest, war, natural disaster, or accident could easily knock them down. In other words, poverty was the reality of life for the majority of folks.

In addition to this gritty reality, prisons of that time were filled with people who could not pay their debts. So, when Jesus mentions people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison, he is describing people the disciples lived with and encountered every single day. In fact, some of the disciples at some point in time had experience one or more of these adverse situations.

So, Jesus urges them to just look around — there’s no need to travel very far to find a person struggling with one of these things. In my sermon I will encourage people to look around at those sitting next to them, think of people in their neighborhoods, families whose kids go to the same schools and clubs. There is hunger, thirst, and brokenness everywhere (by the way, Greek allows for figurative use of these words, not just literal).

The next shocking move Jesus makes is transforming the God-self into all who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison. So, what he was saying was that the all-powerful God above all is the same God who is one with the least of us — those who are brought down by their life, who have lost all hope, who are discouraged, or depressed. As we will consider together this Sunday, the huge problem of mental illness in our society today offers one such opportunity to recognize God in those who struggle with these issues.

Paraphrasing this passage, you could say, “Look around at each other, at your families, your neighbors, your friends. All of us are broken and in need. And God is also here among us. God knows about all of our pains, fears, and defeats. As you look around and recognize in other people the same brokenness you carry, do something.”

What would we be like as a church if no-one remained unseen, forgotten, or ignored? What if everyone’s pain and need was recognized by others who also hurt and struggle? What if we grow in our transformation to be Christ-like, to be able to see Christ in others?

We will answer these questions together this Sunday in the Sanctuary worship service.

Dr. Zhenya Gurina-Rodriguez
Associate Pastor of Grace Groups & Discipleship

 

P.S. Here are the discussion questions about this text and sermon that I will offer to our Grace Groups to discuss during the week:

  1. Share a story when someone’s pain or struggle really resonated with you on a very personal and deep level.
  2. Where and when do you meet new people and develop meaningful relationships with them?
  3. How could the Healthy Plate Discipleship framework (worship, learn, serve, pray, give, pray) sharpen your vision to see Christ in others, even among their need and brokenness?
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