‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as yourself?
–from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer
Meeting Jesus this Lent
As we come to the first full week of Lent, perhaps you’ve decided to give something up for the season, something challenging or something less so. Maybe it’s something with remarkable specificity. One young person I knew gave up blue m&m’s.
Perhaps as alternative or addition, you have decided to take on a spiritual discipline, a way to grow your faith, since the word “Lent” derives from an old English word for spring. Lent is a season for growth. It’s not too late to add something to your practice this season.
This morning, I wanted to draw your attention to a Lenten lectionary, a list of readings for every day in Lent. You won’t find it in the Prayer Book, but you can find it on lectionarypage.net (among other places). You might want to use it as a guide. Take five, ten, thirty minutes to read one or all of the readings each day. See what they say about your own spiritual state, your own spiritual journey.
Today’s gospel reading from that lectionary offers a challenging parable from the Gospel of Matthew. Here’s the set up. A king gathers all nations before him, and divides those people as a shepherd would divide sheep from goats. The basis of distinction? How those people treated each other, and especially how they treated those in greatest need. The king speaks of how sheep-like people fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, pastored the sick, visited prisoners. The king said that when those sheep-like folk did that, they were really serving him. Accordingly, they met with commendation.
Flip side, the goats were those who failed to address those needs. Accordingly, those goats met with condemnation.
There’s much that is remarkable about this parable. One of the features that always strikes me is the element of surprise for sheep and goats. The sheep who served those in need are surprised when the king said that their ministry to the marginalized was as if it had been done to him. Sheep are surprised. It’s clear that the sheep were not doing their ministry in order to win favor with the king. Similarly, the goats had no idea they were dissing the king when they dissed those in need.
Truth be told, there is a bit of sheep and goat in each one of us, but take this reading for this Monday in Lent to see how it can help your faith grow. Look for the opportunity to see Christ, to meet the king, in those in greatest need. It’s something that our baptismal covenant encourages us to do. (See the promise included above). And it can be challenging, because Christ often comes very well disguised. Nadia Bolz-Weber, slightly profane evangelist puts it this way: I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset.
This season, guided by scripture, including today’s parable, perhaps you can give up your reticence to reach out to someone in need. Maybe you do that out of fear or sloth or focus on self. Give that up.
And perhaps you can take on some ministry of service. We don’t have to look very far to find someone in need. Maybe just across the dining room table or in the next cubicle. In doing so, it may well be that we meet Christ. You may well find that we are serving the king.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.