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January 1, 2013 (German Vespers for New Year’s)
Pastor Angela Freeman
This is an English translation of the sermon Pastor Freeman delivered in German as part of “German Vespers for New Year’s.”
Here in the parable of the Last Judgment what makes some blessed is the fact that, though they didn’t realize it, in seeing the poor and helping them, they saw and helped Jesus. By contrast, what makes others cursed is that they never really did see Jesus suffering and in need because they never really saw the poor.
The king addresses each of two groups as either blessed or cursed and announces the consequences—enter into the kingdom or depart from him.
He said that he makes this judgment based on: “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison and you fed, gave me drink, welcomed me clothes me, visited me, came to see me.”
Then the blessed ask the “when” question? “When did we see you hungry, etc. and meet your needs?”
Of course, those who are accursed ask the same question in verse 44, but for a different reason, to attempt to excuse themselves from their punishment. The answer to both the blessed and the accursed group is the same. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it (or did not do it) to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The kingdom of heaven shows up where we least expect it. The presence of Jesus is in the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the imprisoned. They are not only the “brothers” of Jesus; Jesus identifies himself with them.
It is unexpected, but one often receives blessings from being compassionate toward those who the world has rejected. The parable points out that we as individuals, as churches, and as a society, are often not very good at judging others.
We judge others either too harsh or too easy. We judge people by their appearances, or we make assumptions about others’ feelings and experiences. These judgments are not ours to make. We exclude and we make allowances on other grounds than those set given in this story from Matthew’s Gospel. When we set ourselves up as judge over others, we promote ourselves above our human abilities.
He is also the Son of God whose origin is in God. He is proclaimed as God’s Son at his baptism and proves himself to be a faithful son in his confrontation with God’s adversary. He speaks of God as his Father and is the Son to whom the Father has delivered all things.
He is also the Son of Man who combines qualities of servanthood and suffering with majesty. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, will suffer at the hands of those who do not recognize him, and will be betrayed into human hand. Later he will be killed before he rises on the third day. He also has authority on earth to forgive sins. He is the Messiah, and will come to judge the earth and bring in God’s kingdom.
Jesus is the majestic, exalted Judge and King whose identity is hidden in the poor. The parable calls us to evaluate our own actions, rather than spend our energy judging others, and deciding whether they are sheep or goats. We are called to love others with the compassion and love that Jesus has given us.
Copyright © 2013 Angela Freeman
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