I am thankful that the Calvinist theocracy in the American colonies, as hoped and planned for by those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, failed miserably. I am thankful for the grace infused vision of Jacob Arminius and his English interpreter John Wesley who brought an alternative vision to this country. I am thankful to share in that same vision today as part of the life, work, and ministry of the United Methodist Church on Ocracoke Island.
Join Richard for a discussion about Christ the King Sunday and what are some of the most important things we need to remember about who Jesus is and how he relates to us as we end the liturgical year. Click here to listen now.
This is one of those apocalyptic passages that the “left behind types” love to quote, the separating of the sheep from goats. Someone is going to be a sheep and go to heaven and the majority of us sinners will be goats in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. That all sounds pretty bad, especially if you don’t read any further. What’s the basis, the criteria, the judgment on which Jesus is making this separation? Who becomes a sheep? Who becomes a goat and why? Are the sheep those who voted straight ticket Republican? Are the goats the Democrats? Are the sheep those people who only used the New International Version or the King James Version? Could they be the people who bought into the culture war hype, whatever it was this week, month, or year, to believe that Christianity was on its deathbed if you didn’t subscribe to the most of narrow interpretation of what certain people called “faith”? No! It is none of those things. That’s not what Jesus was talking about when he described how one became a sheep or a goat.
The goats, the people at his left hand (verse 41) are those people who, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you have me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Christ is present in the people with the most basic human needs. Being with me, Christ says, is about meeting the needs of then neediest people and searching out those needs beyond whatever political and social agendas get attached to those needs. What’s more important, your soul or making a short-term political point? That’s the question Jesus is asking us today.
We cannot be held responsible for being a goat because we did not see you in any of the forms which you describe? When did we see you in jail? I’ve never seen you in jail. Jesus, I’ve never seen you hungry. Certainly Jesus, had I seen you hungry, I would have offered you a can of food or a voucher from a food bank. But tell me Jesus, when have I ever seen you hungry? You’ve never asked me to buy you a drink while standing next to you at the refrigerated beverages section at the variety store. Obviously you can’t be thirsty because I’ve not seen you in the places where I go to encounter people trying to drink things. Jesus, you’ve never once been with me in the waiting room at the health center. I never knew you were ill. Why didn’t you call? If you were sick you should have said something. When were you arrested? They don’t arrest people without cause. If they arrested you they probably had a pretty good reason. Do you know what it takes to visit someone in jail?
It seems like you’ve set a pretty high bar to become a sheep. Yes. The point is this: if we’ve seen anyone in these places we’ve seen him. Let me say that again. If we’ve seen anyone in these places we’ve seen Jesus. Once we’ve encountered Jesus, everything changes. I’m not talking about how you feel better about yourself when you decided Jesus to be in a personal relationship with Christ. I mean that the world alters, society changes when the body of Christ acknowledges Christ in all people and all places.
Let me tell you why think this passage is so appropriate for Christ the King Sunday and where we are as a nation.
I can hear Jesus asking this question today, were he sharing these same sentiments with his disciples on Ocracoke and throughout the United States: “The Lord will say to those on his left, I came seeking a better life, and you deported me. And we will ask, but Lord when did we ever try to deport you?”
How to Be the Most Interesting Church in the World
- Be Interesting. Interest is rooted in engagement. Simply put, engage with the world around you. Interested people genuinely care about other people.
- Relate to the world without becoming a slave to relevancy.
- Offer alternatives to the status quo. The status quo is always changing. Create something new.
- Be ready to learn new things and challenge what you think you know.
- Listen to others and the stories they tell. Their stories will dovetail with the master narrative you tell.
1. Jesus was the king of irony. He was the 1st century master of irony. In fact, I believe no one was practicing irony north of Samaria until Jesus was born. Take this one example, where he turns Peter’s name into a pun of sorts.
Matthew 16:18 “and upon this rock I will build my church.” Peter’s name, in Greek, means “rock”. Petros is the Greek word for rock. The irony is that Peter wasn’t always the picture of rock like stability and permanence. He could be impulsive, impetuous, and in a tight situation you never knew if he’d have your back. This, for the early Christian readers of Matthew’s gospel (50 or so years after the death of Jesus), would have definitely garnered more than a chuckle. Jesus is poking fun at himself. It’s self-deprecating humor.
2. Jesus was the king of the one-liners. The Pharisees were perpetually attempting to trap him with complex and convoluted theological arguments. They lived for any “gotcha” moment that might show contradictions between Jesus’ teaching and established doctrine.
In Matthew 22:21, he tells the Pharisees, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It’s the classic zinger. There’s no comeback.
3. Jesus was the king of making absurdly funny statements. He did this all the time. Our problem is that we have become so detached from the text and the context of who this man was and what he was trying to say, we’ve lost the ability to hear the laughter.
It’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. (A comment on wealth but what a funny image!)
The blind leading the blind. (Directed to the religious leaders of his day the image is straight out of a Monty Python sketch.)
4. Jesus loves ludicrous and absurd images. In this, I call him the king of satire.
What fool would place a lamp “under a bushel basket or under a bed and not on the lampstand?” (Mk 4:21)
1. Horrible Christians do not believe there is a single list of approved vocabulary words and phrases which defines how all Christians should speak.
2. Horrible Christians realize the truth about the Kingdom of God will be offensive to many who believe they hold the monopoly on how others should live as “good” Christians.
3. Horrible Christians understand that “good” Christians ignore some of the most important people Jesus was trying to befriend.
4. Horrible Christians are open to ideas from other people who are also horrible at their faith or have no faith at all.
5. Horrible Christians discover God beyond what “good” Christians have defined as God’s natural habitat.
6. Horrible Christians are not big on memorizing facts if they’re not going to impact how you live.
7. Horrible Christians are more concerned about seeing the needs other people than being seen as “good” Christians.
8. Horrible Christians know the difference between living by the book and letting the book live through you.
9. There are many Horrible Christians both in and out of churches.
10. Horrible Christianity is a messy, organic, reality that looks nothing like the picture of Christianity in your mind.
1. Jesus is not a Christian. He’s Jewish.
2. Jesus was not born on Christmas Day (December 25th).
3. Becoming a follower of Jesus doesn’t involve passing a litmus test.
4. Jesus told stories about life; not sermons about doctrine.
5. Jesus met people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. He believed in helping the whole person.
6. Jesus sought out new friends among those whom traditional religious groups wouldn’t want to be caught anywhere near. He didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went to them.
7. Jesus’ family tree contains some men and women with sordid pasts. As such, family backgrounds matter not to Jesus.
8. Jesus prayed. When he did, it was usually difficult.
9. Jesus lived and died in conditions of extreme poverty.
10. Jesus experienced doubt, fear, frustration, and worry.
1. The parables are moral fables told by Jesus to illustrate a larger religious point.
2. Don’t read yourself into the story.
3. God isn’t always supposed to be seen as the “good” guy in the story.
4. Don’t try to see yourself as the “good” guy in the story.
5. The actions of all of the characters are exaggerated in order to make a point.
6. The stories are told are laced with hyperbole and irony that are difficult for modern audiences to fully appreciate.
7. Each parable fits into the wider teaching context of Jesus’ life and ministry and should be approached accordingly.
8. Instead of approaching the story from the perspective of one character, ask, “What is the entire story trying to teach?”
9. Look for the inherent humor underlying the story, Jesus is about having fun when he tells his stories.
10. Parables are about hope. If you can’t see the hope then you’re not looking.
There are few things I think are important to say about this parable. We can’t see or hear Jesus. In coming to terms with that reality, we lose something. I think we’re missing some of the humor and irony probably embedded within these words. Jesus is a very funny guy. He invented irony. God created comedy. We shouldn’t be surprised when his words connect the human family with the inherent humor and laughter in the world around us. You and I both know this isn’t the case. We are surprised. Most religious writings and sermons go out of their way to hide anything funny about Jesus as a person, what he might of have said, or to understand God as the fun loving creator of the universe the Bible reveals God to be.
This is why I think we need to read out from the parable. It’s important to see the wider context of what Jesus has taught about wealth, poverty, riches, and eternity before we try to understand the punch line of Matthew 25:14-30.
A talent is a unit of money. It’s a great deal of money, far more money than the average worker would have ever seen or earned in their lifetime. One of the best guesses is that a single talent is worth about 20 years wages for the average worker. Let me say that again, one talent is worth about 20 years wages for a single worker. Allow that to sink in for a moment.
Jesus tells us a parable where a man gives one worker 5 talents, another 2, and another 1. He gave one man more money than he could expect to make or earn in a 100 years. To the second man he gave more money than he would expect to make in his own life expectancy (40 years). The third man received 20 years wages, a working life’s income, from Jesus. From the very beginning, do you see the hyperbole, the exaggeration, and the irony?
There is something more going on here. People just didn’t win the lottery. It’s the most extreme of extreme situations. It’s a fantasy. People’s lives are changed dramatically by getting rich and getting rich quick. You’ve all seen the stories on the news when people when the lottery in our day and time. How many of them are broke and worse off within two or three years?
So what do you do now that you’re supposedly better off than everyone else around you? Join the rat race? Move out of talents and get into gold? I’m not so certain. The Kingdom of Heaven is not about your ability to master wealth management. Obviously then we should read “talent” as we would read it in 2014, with no connection (but perhaps with a respectful nod) to its original meaning in the century. We can work our way out of this whole by interpreting our talents as our gifts, skills, and abilities which God expects us to utilize. You could do that but I’m still not sure we’d end up in the right place.
I believe Jesus is trying to tell us that money changes us and our lives. The dynamics of getting into the kingdom of heaven (whatever those dynamics are) are altered when money enters the equation. We have to work harder because the money is working against us. The irony is something that should be a blessing, an easy windfall for all three, ends up destroying one person and taking over the lives of the other two. The other two had to manage their investments. Even the guy who gave them the money says to the third man, “you could have gone to the bankers”. They couldn’t go back to their old lives. The third didn’t understand how much his life had changed once he accepted this cash. He, like the other two, was now in the financial rat race of the 1st century.
The kingdom of God is like three men who don’t need the money, despite what everyone says or thinks. The kingdom of God is like the way it was that day when everyone had all they needed before the man left on his trip. The kingdom of God is like Matthew describes it 20 chapters earlier, as he records a sermon Jesus is preaching from a mountain side in Galilee:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.
I’m thinking the guy with one coin was the meekest investor I’ve ever met and if anyone is going to inherit the Earth, it’s going to be him.