Good News in Hard Places

Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

Matthew 25:31-46

November 24, 2023, Words By: Kristy Humphreys, Image By: Barbara Zandoval

Made Flesh

This week’s lectionary text is a familiar but difficult one.

For many of us, Matthew 25 recalls memories of sermons of the past — echoes of the sheep vs. the goats, cautionary tales about entertaining angels, or Jesus in disguise. There is an abundance of judgment for those seeking it, and we all find ourselves crossing our fingers, hoping to land on the King’s right side and avoid his left. Anyone else remember the old children’s song, “I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa baa….I don’t wanna be a goat, nope.”

I know. There are a lot of layers there. But I want to set aside those old associations and instead focus on a question we often ask at Street Psalms when approaching a text: “How is this good news for the most vulnerable among us?”

Through that lens, I think there is bountiful good news.

God Cares for the Marginalized
For starters, it becomes apparent that God cares about the most vulnerable. Like, a lot. Notice, the final criteria in this judgment scene aren’t anchored in belief, theology, or personal piety, but rather in how we respond to those in need around us: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the stranger.

God Identifies With the Outcast
Also, it’s easy to gloss over the fact that Jesus is directly identifying himself with the naked, hungry, thirsty, and imprisoned. In a culture awaiting a powerful political savior to defeat their oppressors, Jesus consistently showcases a radical departure, emphasizing the laying aside of power. Even in the context of this passage, which starts with the Son of Man coming in all his glory and sitting on a throne, he says caring for the vulnerable is the same as caring for him. It’s an explicit indication of values.

Following Jesus Makes Us More Human
I also notice that the reward comes from serving the most vulnerable — something I have seen modeled again and again in the Street Psalms community. And not in a lip service sort of way. Those serving vulnerable populations often express feeling a sense of blessing, of transformation.

One example of this: a friend in the community recently opened his home to his son’s buddy. Family life wasn’t great for the young man, and he needed a stable place to get his feet under him again. After a while, a conversation unfolded about why they had invited him to stay. Without blinking an eye, my friend responded, “Because you make us better.” That was probably the last response the young man expected, and I think it was met with some incredulity.

A typical response might have been something like, “Because it’s what Jesus teaches us,” or “That’s what good neighbors do,” or even a simple, “It’s no problem. We’re happy to help.” But you see, my friend has been practicing incarnational living for long enough to know that when these opportunities arise, it really is an opportunity, not only to be a blessing, but to BE blessed. He absolutely meant what he said, and to me, modeled the type of posture and maturity that comes from years of practicing seeing through the lens of Jesus.

When we identify with the vulnerable, when we learn to humanize and reach across boundaries of us/them, clean/unclean, and cursed/blessed, WE are rewarded with our own humanity. We become more human when we serve like the Human One.

During this Thanksgiving season, I am filled with gratitude for a God who sees and celebrates good news in hard places — who deems the naked worthy of being clothed, the hungry worthy of nourishment, and the sick and imprisoned worthy of visitation. I’m thankful for the example of Jesus who shows us how to meet him in the “other,” shaping us into his image of overflowing love. May it be so.

Dwelling Among Us

Read this poem by Stephen Garnaas-Holmes, and consider making it your prayer as we enter into the holiday season — a time for love and generosity of spirit.

God of mercy,
give me eyes to see your face.
God of mercy,
give me ears to hear your cry.
God of mercy,
give me hands to reach out to you.
God of mercy,
give me a heart to know your presence.
God of mercy,
give me mercy.
that I may draw near to you.

About The Author

Kristy Humphreys