Return of the King

Reign of Christ  |  Matthew 25:31-46

     Return of the King

Christ Pantocrator - icon from St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai
Christ Pantocrator – icon from St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Everyone is in a great throng, bigger than any rock concert, a slow moving herd of humanity, everyone there is, all in one place. When the sorting starts — the finger of God pointing left or right as each of us gets close enough for scrutiny — we don’t understand. This doesn’t match our expectations.

For one thing, everyone is still here. Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of rapture? There were movies about it. Nicolas Cage was in the remake, wasn’t he? All of this judging business wasn’t supposed to happen yet, and not like this. All of the good folk were already supposed to be taken, not left behind, but here we all are, like sheep, or goats, depending on which way the finger of God points.

If this is a picture of how the second coming happens, somebody must have painted it wrong. It doesn’t match what the Left Behind folks tell us.

And one more thing.

All the attention is on the lives everyone led here on earth, before the angels and the throne of glory showed up. Jesus keeps talking about how everyone treated the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the oppressed — all from here in this life. How about the streets of gold and the lake of fire part? Can’t we hear more about that?

Call me crazy, but it sounds like Jesus is not really interested in streets of gold and lakes of fire. He keeps talking about how we live our lives. These lives. Right here. Now.

And in case anyone missed it, this isn’t the second coming of Christ. To hear Jesus tell it, this is something like the sixth or seventh return, or maybe the hundred billionth.

You don’t think so? Count them up. Jesus says that we found him hungry, and thirsty, and alone, and naked, and sick, and imprisoned, and we did nothing to help him. That’s six appearances right there, not counting that time when we crucified him. Doing nothing was an improvement when you think about it, but still.

Where Jesus is concerned, some of us don’t have a very good track record.

RoundSunriseJesus is saying that he already came back. He keeps on coming back. Every day. Every time we see a homeless person, he’s back. Every time we meet someone who needs food, or clothes, or a place to stay, there he is. When our coworker needs encouragement, there he is. He looks like a refugee woman from Syria, a family crossing a river out of Myanmar, a couple staring at the ruin of their home after a hurricane. We just fail to recognize him, because he doesn’t look the way we expect him to look — which makes us sort of like those first disciples after the resurrection. According to the Gospels, they had trouble recognizing Jesus as well. They spent years together, and he still didn’t look like they expected him to look, didn’t appear the way they wanted him to appear.

But those people he is talking about, they aren’t the real Jesus, are they? It’s sort of like settling for a Santa’s helper at the mall because the real Santa is too busy. That lonely old woman isn’t really Jesus. That’s just somebody we might help so that we can get on the Nice list instead of the Naughty one. Right?

Except that isn’t what Jesus said. He said what we do to the old lady, we’ve done to him. Really, truly. It’s not like Jesus voodoo dolls — do something nice for the old lady, or not, and you do something nice for Jesus, or not. He’s saying that on some level, the old lady is Jesus. Even if she doesn’t know it. Even if we can’t see it.

Maybe we’ve just learned not to see Jesus. We can walk right past him sitting on the sidewalk, because that’s not Jesus, that’s just someone who should get a job. We can overlook him in his disguise as a child without a coat, the kid whose cheeks are a little too thin. Jesus doesn’t look anything like that woman in a Syrian refugee camp, or like those people in tent hospitals. Jesus never had ebola, never had his house destroyed by a storm, never lost his family in an earthquake. He never looked like that, or smelled like that, or dressed like that, and he was never so foolish as to be born on the wrong side of a border. Jesus never looked anything like our neighbors, certainly not anything like our own family.

We would have done fine things for Jesus, if we could have found him, but we’re surrounded by a bunch of goats.

Oh, what does he look like? Jesus looks like a king, of course. You can’t miss him. And one day we’re going to walk on streets of gold and wear white robes and sing songs together. It’s not a metaphor, you say? What do you mean? Heaven is real, and you’ve got a ticket, eh? If people know what’s good for them, they’ll go get themselves a ticket as well? That’s what matters, after all. None of this here and now stuff. This is just a momentary thing. Isn’t that what it says somewhere? Come to think about it, if this life is so temporary, why is Jesus making such a fuss about it?

In the meantime, where did all of these poor folk come from? They look sort of familiar.



Photos by Granny ™ (except the icon from St Catherine’s, of course)