Letter from the Pastor: The Parable of the Sheep and Goats
Dear Friends in Christ: My thoughts and prayers are with you all in the midst of the disruptions, challenges, and dangers presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We are all in this together and we pray for strength and good courage from God to overcome. May we continue to heed the advice of medical experts and responsible, well-informed leaders. I delivered some belated Easter baskets to our grandchildren recently and it was such a joy to see them even though we had to engage in social distancing and I chose to wear a mask out of precaution not knowing whether or not I am a carrier.
Whenever we’re confronted with a major disruption in our lives it causes us to think about our mortality and reflect more deeply on the meaning and value of life. What would you do if you knew that you only had a few days or weeks or months to live? I don’t want to sound morbid but perhaps if we knew how to handle our death we would better know how to handle life. Death reminds us that a good part of life is out of our control so we need perspective on what truly matters. Jesus’ most vivid parable had to do with people who came face to face with death and met up with the Lord on the other side of death. “Before him will be gathered all nations,” said Jesus, “and he will separate them from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me....naked and you clothed me.’” The people were surprised. “Lord, when did we see you hungry” – or in any of those other needy situations? And the Lord says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:31ff.). Apparently, to be aware of other people and to be sensitive and compassionate about how you relate to them is to be second nature to anyone who views themselves as a child of God. Life needs commitments beyond oneself if it is to hold together. Did not Jesus also say, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it?” In Christ we discover that the secret of a satisfying life is to care about others. The famous scholar, Martin Buber, once visited Haverford College. The president of the college, Gilbert White, invited Martin to a Quaker Meeting House where faculty and students gathered every Thursday morning for a time of quiet reflection. After about ten minutes of silence the president rose and spoke of what a great thing it was that people could meet each other across barriers of race, nationality, economic status, and age and could reach out and touch each other. He had barely sat down when Martin Buber rose, looking with his beard, strong face, and piercing eyes as much as one would picture an Old Testament prophet. Martin told the gathering that it was a great thing to transcend barriers and to meet another human being, but that meeting another across a barrier was not the greatest thing that one could do for another. There was something greater. He said the greatest thing that anyone could do for another was to confirm the deepest thing within that person.
Perhaps it’s as simple as that – to confirm the depths of another person. Read through the gospels and see how Jesus did it, over and over again! Suppose someone else’s life is a miracle because you were able to confirm that person? Suppose you find your life becoming a miracle because it is confirmed by Christ?
If you had five or ten or thirty days to live or six months, what would you do? Undoubtedly, you would think of many things. Perhaps thanking somebody, forgiving somebody, understanding somebody, engaging in acts of personal kindness, generosity, caring, and love. The chances are that you have more than five days to live! Even with COVID-19 plaguing the world the vast majority of people are surviving it. Get on with the life God gives you. We thank God for all of those dedicated workers on the front-line of fighting COVID-19, many of them giving their lives, many even volunteering at great risk. The point is that every day we have an opportunity with the breath God gives us to spend our lives on something greater than self. It’s said that “the best-preserved thing in all of history is an Egyptian mummy. The surest way to make a mummy of yourself is to give all your attention to preserving your life.”
In the name of Christ each day, and especially in times like these, take the time to reach out in compassion and concern for someone else. Hear our Lord say to you, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The chances are that you and I have many more days to live!
Yours in Christ,