November 22, 2023
Deacon Pam Shearman
We’ve read the Gospel of Matthew for most of this liturgical year, which is coming to a close on Sunday. Sunday’s reading, "The Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats", is the last teaching of Jesus before Matthew begins the passion story. Throughout the gospel of Matthew, the writer has been showing us that Jesus, the great Teacher, is calling us to a higher standard of righteousness. In this last teaching, Jesus comes full circle back to his first sermon, the Beatitudes.
In the Beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.” In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus paints a dramatic scene to show us what mercy and indifference look like. Mercy is active: a gift of water to a thirsty person, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, a visit to a sick bed or a prison. The gift of grace that the merciful (the sheep) receive is mercy in return. What a powerful contrast with individualism and indifference to the needs of others that so easily becomes inaction.
I don’t usually use The Economist as a theological source, but I was struck by their critique of extreme Western individualism: “The West must find a way of putting individual initiative within a shaping moral order….Otherwise the history books will record that the people of the West woke up during the 21st Century to discover that [they] found [themselves] living in a superbly efficient, but in the end, aimless machine.”
“Wake up to my coming!” Jesus tells the bridesmaids in Matthew 25. “Wake up to the possibility of abundance!” he tells the investors. “Wake up to your true aim in life!” he tells everyone in today’s reading.
The sheep somehow know. Somehow, they know that our true purpose is caught up in sharing the grace we’ve been given. God’s grace is infinite but our capacity to receive it is finite. God wants to keep filling our cup with grace, but a cup only holds a cup. If we want abundant grace, we need to make room in our cup by pouring some grace out on others. The sheep show us that when we share the grace we’re given, God just keeps giving us more.