PASTOR’S CORNER, David Harris, Associate Pastor, Fellowship Baptist Church, Liberal
We are story-telling and story-loving creatures. That is why so many of our messages are visual, and appeal to our imagination - that part of us that is able to create and hold images, and draw meaning from them. This is why we pay good money to watch movies, why we binge TV shows, and why so much of our language depends on visual analogies.
Jesus of course is well aware of this, and during his earthly ministry he often taught through images. Pick up one of the gospels and peruse it, if you are so disposed, and you will discover the greatest Teacher the world has known was the consummate storyteller. The Son of God was not in the business of offering cold propositions: he constantly appealed to his listeners’ imagination.
One of my favorite stories Jesus offers to our imaginations is found in Matthew 25:31-46. Here there is no list of brute facts about the Day of Lord, but there is an analogy. On the day he will be like a shepherd dividing sheep and goats (vs. 31-33). The imaginary shepherd wants the livestock in question to be sorted into their own kind: their long term arrangements must be orderly, and from the shepherd’s perspective the creatures don’t belong together. God, it turns out, is not confused or overwhelmed with all of the classifications in which we find ourselves. As far as judgement day is concerned, he is most preoccupied with only two kinds of people, and this categorization determines, in the end, who one really is. And so Jesus’ careful listeners should get the point: all of us are on our way to becoming one of only two kinds of people: those who are blessed by the Father and receive an inheritance and a kingdom (vs. 34) and those who are cursed by God and have decided to become the kids of people who fit in most appropriately with the opposition (vs. 41).
There are, as Christians like to say, two ways to live. To borrow from the analogy, there are sheep and goats. But to follow the analogy to the greater truth it points us to, there are those who in the end say “yes” to God and get him, and those who say “no” and as they wish depart from him. In the context of Jesus’ ministry, this image describes in fact how one responds to Jesus. As God himself incarnate, what one does with Jesus is in the end what one does with his Creator. There is the Jesus way, and there is everything else.
But what is most interesting about this story, at least to me, is the way Christ describes the conversations with these two groups of people (see vs. 35-40, then 42-46). The God-man has already made quite clear that there are two kinds of people, and now he gives us a little more insight into what divides them so. The image of livestock was not enough it seems: Christ wanted his listeners to not only know about the choice, but to know what characterizes each path. And if you consider yourself a follower of Jesus, as do I, we should pay special attention to how Jesus describes such a life.
So what is the point here? Notice carefully in the text, neither group seems to really grasp what they did. But then Jesus reveals to both groups what they had been doing all along: by serving others, those ready for eternal life had actually been serving Jesus. By neglecting others, those ready for eternity without God has been neglecting Jesus.
What then are we to take away from Jesus’ appeal to our imagination? First, in the way of Jesus, those people that belong to him, even the most vulnerable and least impressive, are cared for and loved, because in so doing Jesus himself is loved. Using, manipulating, and avoiding people (even the least of these) while protesting one still loves Christ is then not love for Jesus but a failure to love him. Second, in the way of Jesus no action done out of love is really pointless. Christians can have an unhealthy obsession with doing big things for God in the name of serving him, but nothing in this text gives us the least indication this is what God demands. If at the end of all things an indicator of where someone is eternally bound was their willingness to offer a drink of water, then the idea God demands big things from us is a failure to take Jesus’ words seriously.
Jesus invites us all into a life of eternal joy with him, and the way is totally by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But while we are on the way, what should characterize us? What will it look like to love Jesus on the Jesus way? For most of us, it won’t be big things. Cups of water. Clothes. A visit in a dark place. A shared meal. Yes, these are little things. No trappings of greatness here. But little things add up in the way of Jesus. Christ is telling a story to pull in your imagination. Listen. Pay attention.