We started with a discussion of how we fragment God's family:
- Look at where we erect barriers – when have you been conscious of being “out”? When have you erected barriers to keep others out?
- In what ways do you notice the fragmenting and breaking of the family of God in the world you live, work and play in?
31-33"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'
We’re often tempted to look at the people Jesus mentions as categories of people that we need to do good to. It’s natural to think of them as “others,” as unfortunate, as different than us.
This passage comes late in Matthew’s gospel, and by this time we know that Jesus has met, fed, chastised, wept with, challenged, healed and marveled at the faith of thousands and thousands of people. Looked them right in the eye. Touched them and been touched by them. It’s very safe to say, in my view, that Jesus is not talking about abstract categories. He is talking about the woman who sought him out and stole healing power from a touch of his cloak. He is talking about the blind man who called out to the Son of David when he heard Jesus coming. He is talking about his friend Lazarus, dead and stinking in the tomb, and his friends Martha and Mary in their busyness and their grief. And I believe that he is also picturing you and I, and all the people his father has given him.
We did an exercise of looking deeply into the people in this story in order to really see what Jesus is talking about.
- Think of people who need to be fed and clothed. Do you know of anyone who lacks for these basics of life? What is it the causes their lack? Who is at fault? In what ways might you be in need of these things? In what way are you blessed with these things? How do your blessings relate to the needs around you?
- Think of people who need wholeness and inclusion. Who do you know who needs to be healed, or is excluded because of the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation? What causes them to be on the “outside” of what we think of as normal? In what ways have you ever felt excluded or left out? In what ways do you need healing? Does your experience make you want to open your circle or create healing…or does it make you protective and suspicious?
- Think of people in prison. Do you know someone who is or has been imprisoned? In an actual jail, or in an inner torment, or dangerous relationship, or addiction, or trapped by their wealth and stuff? Are you imprisoned by anything? Visualize some of the reasons people are imprisoned. In what ways might your life help to facilitate such imprisonment, or work to free people from it?
I think the call to feed the hungry would sound more like the widow who gave all the food she had for herself and her son to a traveling prophet, than my buying an extra bag of cans for the food pantry.
This Lent we have been looking at varying ways God’s beautiful, plentiful creation has been broken and scarred by humanity. We’ve looked at the inequalities of hunger, where enough food to feed everyone is grown but isn’t distributed fairly. We’ve looked at the tragedy of homelessness, where basic shelter is out of reach of many people who work. We’ve looked at the ways we abuse and take advantage of the earth that we are called to be stewards and co-creators/re-creators of, and now the ways that we build walls between them and us.
Jesus’ message is that there is no them, there is only us. The common thread, it seems to me, is that it’s in our interest to lose this connection to the whole of God’s family. Mother Teresa said it well: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
So how do we maintain and renew this connection? Here are some ideas from our community:
Look deeply. When you gather for supper, or come to the communion table, look at the food as given for you and representing all that God has put in place to care for his people – and hear the cries of those who don’t have food or water. When you adjust the thermostat, thank God for the blessing of energy, remember that in many places people have less than their share of energy because we have more than ours – and see those who, even if they have a room instead of a car or a sidewalk, don’t have a home. When you notice your health, pray for those who care for the sick, and think about how you would cope without your knowledge of keeping yourself healthy, and insurance.
Look where you are. We are not called to solve global crises, we are called to live faithfully and mindfully in our families and communities.