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Love God and Serve Others
Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 1: God Is Worthy of Our Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 30, 2018
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: Matthew 25: 31-46
The time is Holy Week 29 CE. The place is Jerusalem. The setting is two days before Passover. His enemies are plotting, and Jesus knows it. Shouldn’t we pay close attention to what he says? When someone is close to death, and they know it, they do not speak of trivial matters. It is crucial we listen carefully to every word.
We have always felt this text is one of the most disturbing in the Bible. For, if it is literally true, our eternal destiny is at stake. This passage is not a parable. In Matthew, parables begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like …” and is usually followed by a made-up story from everyday life experiences. There are two parables in this chapter before our passage.
Today’s scripture is prophetic, not parabolic, looking into the future when the Son of Man comes into his glory. “Son of Man” is Jesus’ preferred reference to himself. (See Daniel 7:13; used in Matthew 9:6; 16:13; 20:18)
The scene is impressive: Surrounded by the panoply of heaven, he calls the nations of the world for judgment. Please note: the nations, not just individuals. The metaphor of sheep and goats was a familiar one, for shepherds would have both in their flock. There would be times when separation was needed: the sheep for shearing or slaughter – the goats for milking or slaughter. This separation is the basis of Jesus’ prophetic statement.
The sheep receive a commendation of being “blessed.” Their inheritance is the Kingdom: the sheer joy of being with the Father – the best definition of being blessed! (Hope you have read “The Shack!”) The basis of this judgment is how we fulfill the fundamental needs of human beings: food, drink, acceptance, clothing, health care, and finding the lost. We know, the word is prison, but don’t we have a mental hang-up when it comes to what a prison is? Jesus is pointing to more than incarceration for a crime. People are lost in many prisons – some are self-made, but others are created by society to set apart “undesirables.” Each of these acts is personally done for the Son of Man – Jesus, but the blessed don’t know why – yet!
We can almost hear Gomer Pyle saying: “Surprise! Surprise!”
The sheep are now called “the righteous.” Remember: the meaning of “righteous” is right living in personal life and justice in community living. Of course, “moral” righteousness is integral, but this inner holiness overflows to all those around.
The “sheep” are astounded and repeatedly ask the question: “When did we see YOU in need?” And the answer is just as surprising: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did it for me.” (25:40 NIV) These simple acts of caring and providing for our fellow human beings are actually caring for the Son of Man – for Jesus himself!
Stunning, isn’t it? Simple, isn’t it? Not theology, not worship styles, not even church membership. WE ARE FAMILY, brothers and sisters all – all of us!
Then comes the most disturbing revelation of all – the great eternal separation, and the “goats” are just as surprised. They too want to know “why?” The answer is just as stunning – just as simple: food, drink, acceptance, clothing, care for the sick, and going to the lost. You did not do it for them, and so you did it not for me (Jesus).
The two now move on into eternity – one to the punishment of separation and the other into the joy of the eternal love of God.
One of Sam’s teachers saw four dimensions to this passage: physical, spiritual, mental, and relational. Your class could spend some very productive time “fleshing out” how these dimensions are manifested in these verses.
Hopefully, no one sees in these verses a way to earn the King’s favor. Both groups acted unwittingly, without knowing the consequences. We have been given the great privilege of knowing Jesus and His Way. Like in all else, grace is at work in the gift. We are not told to do more or work harder to get to heaven, but we are encouraged to look inward and see why, or why not, we respond to real need the way we do.
“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a legal truism. Examine your lifestyle: where you live, what you eat, what you wear, which car you drive, where your children (or grandchildren) go to school. How we spend our money may well indicate whether compassion is present or absent. If what Jesus said on that day shortly before his crucifixion is true, denial of compassion is equivalent to spurning the Judge Himself.
We enact God’s justice – His righteousness – on a small scale whenever we act compassionately to relieve suffering. There are so many avenues of service open to us: food pantry, soup kitchen, meals-on-wheels, building or restoring houses, drilling wells, thrift stores, free medical clinics, blood drives, or prison ministries. Some of us may have reached the time of life where our financial gift is the best vehicle we have of showing compassion.
We don’t have to wait for His judgment. We can judge our actions or inactions now. One thing is certain now: God’s standard is servant love, where there are no lines of discrimination or deserving – only human need seen and met.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.