Advent | Day 21
Saturday, December 17
- Psalms 55, 138, 139.1-17
- Zechariah 8.9-17
- Revelation 6.1-17
- Matthew 25.31-46
Then the righteous will answer him, “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.”
The famous Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard recognized the sting of the gospels. He wrote over 160 years ago that Christianity offends us because we do not understand its demand that we be extraordinary. Foolishly we remove the offense from the good news of God. Yet, Jesus holds fast to its offensiveness, like he does in this parable from Matthew 25.
Here, Jesus talks about “the nations” being separated according to the righteous and the unrighteous, like sheep and goats. In the Old Testament, the nations signified everyone else but Israel. Israel was the nation, as in Psalm 33: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Yet Jesus calls the special status of the nation into question in this parable. He teaches that God is the Lord of the nations who make the least of these a priority.
Who are the least of these in Jesus’ words? They are people who suffer when groups erect social, religious, and cultural walls to protect their privilege. They are affected by systemic lack: malnutrition, social disenfranchisement, unacceptable shelter and spotty daily safety. They are sick too much, and imprisoned more frequently than those with privilege. They are the disposables of society.
I—we—need to be offended this Advent. This society is not as righteous as many of us believe, according to the standards of Matthew 25. Sure, there are great stories in Nashville about caring for the least of these: Magdalene House, Room in the Inn, Luke 14.12, Dismas House, and WhichWich as well as countless individuals. Still, in our city the homeless get jail more than treatment. Communities seek to drive out neighbors by not building their Mosques. Minorities go to prison five times more than whites. Poverty illnesses continue to afflict urban areas because good health care has a price tag. Private and public schools continue to disenfranchise.
My prayer this Advent is: may Christ surprise, alarm, and offend us into being the Holy One’s extraordinary people.
Associate Professor, School of Religion
You can access an online version of the 2011 Advent Guide (presented annually be Belmont’s School of Religion) at: http://issuu.com/office.communications/docs/2011_advent_guide#download