As you well know by now, this week’s gospel reading (Mt. 25:31-46), the
parable of the sheep and goats, is particularly important to me. It
forms the basis of a lot of my theological thinking, and it is the lens
through which I see the church, the world, and the interaction between
the two. In truth, it is the passage that forms the basis of how I
understand the basic interaction between God and humanity, Christian or
not. It has everything to do with how I understand mission.
You remember the story. The Son of Man gathers all of humanity
together and separates them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
The sheep, gathered at the right hand, are blessed; the goats, gathered
at the left, are condemned. The basis of the judgment has to do with
how one has responded to the needs of the poor, giving them food when
hungry, drink when thirsty, welcome when lonely, clothing when needed,
and whether one has visited them when sick or in prison. “Truly I tell
you,” says the Son of Man, “ just as you did it to one of the least of
these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The Son of Man
and the poor are one. It is a radical teaching.
It is also a disturbing teaching, for the opposite is also true.
“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of
these, you did not do it to me.”
And that is a pretty sobering message, or at least it is for me. I
know that I pass many a hungry person on the streets of New York and do
not even look in their eyes. It is rather like fear of looking directly
at the face of God perhaps. The judgment to come ought to cause me
Sometimes, though, I run across reason to hope. An article in ENS last
week was such an occasion. Two weeks ago, an Episcopal priest named
Mark Sims was arrested and charged with a crime in Ft. Lauderdale. He
was fingerprinted, photographed, and released with a court date on a
charge that carries a possible $500 fine and 60 days in jail. Do you
know what the crime was? It was that he fed homeless people in a city
park and he led his congregation to do likewise.
Now I don’t know Mark Sims, although I’m calling him today. I want to
hear his story. I want to hear his story because I’m pretty sure he has
seen Jesus, and that is something I would like to hear about. I want
to hear his story because I think he had five talents and just made a
big profit. I want Canon Sims to know he inspired me to be a better
Christian. I want Canon Sims to know he has given me hope, not just
hope to avoid the judgment. More importantly, it has given me hope to
enter into the presence of God more fully day by day on the streets.
And isn’t that what the mission is?