Seeing with the eyes of the HeartChrist the King
Robert first came to our front door on a Saturday afternoon offering to mow our grass or trim our shrubs. The first couple of times he came, we told him we didn’t need anyone for such services. But he continued to come.
We had a Chestnut Swamp Oak with leaves as big as dinner plates that fell for months. Clearly, I did need someone to help with such an overwhelming burden. For the next month, Robert and I raked together. Realizing he had walked a distance to get to our street, I gave him rides home after a work session. We would stop on the way and get him a sandwich. But there were times in between, I would tell Robert, not today. I began to worry, did I do enough? Should I have supported Robert differently when he rang our doorbell? Do you ever feel that you don’t do enough, or you don’t even know what to do?
Where do we see ourselves in this story told by Jesus in the Matthew passage?
Today is Christ the King Sunday. Certainly, throughout the year we honour Christ the baby, Christ the baptized, Christ the teacher, the physician and Christ the resurrected. But Christ the King honours the One who knows our beginning and our ending, our ups and downs and recognizes us when we may not recognize ourselves.
Jesus told a parable in Matthew when Christ the King is preparing to judge or evaluate everything that has happened to the end of time. The purpose of this parable was not to frighten those hearing Jesus tell it, but to provide a description of what it means to serve Christ the King.
The analogy would have made sense to those listening to Jesus. Shepherds routinely had both sheep and goats in their flocks. At night, the shepherd had to separate the sheep from the goats because the goats had to be protected from the cold and the sheep enjoyed the open air. The hearers could imagine the familiar sight the sheep placed on the one side of Christ the King and the goats set on the other.
The King’s separation is not done randomly but was based on their behavior. To those on his right, the King affirms, “Come, you that are blessed by 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
These first five acts described here; feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, providing clothing to those without and taking care of the sick were fundamental acts of mercy in Jewish thought and practice. The ways they cared for others must be at the core of faith. The lesson is that our relationship with God is not a matter of having faith but a matter of responding in faith.
The son of man is looking back at the sheep and goats past behaviour. The amazing part of the story is their response: “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?”
Those who had behaved faithfully were gobsmacked. The way they had responded to the needs of others was such a part of their character and their daily routine, when their mercy is revealed to them, they are surprised. When did they do those things? It wasn’t a mental checklist that enabled them to check off “Good Deed of the Day” – done, but an act of the heart beyond their recognition.
The faithful learned that the way they treated others was also being done for Christ. Jesus is saying that he is present in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the outcast and the imprisoned.
Do you notice the others, on the left, the goats, when attention was brought to the same needs, Christ said they did not do for others. Unlike the first group who were surprised they had acted faithfully; this group was surprised they did not do these acts of mercy. And in not behaving faithfully toward others, they missed the opportunity and the awareness that they were doing these things for Jesus.
Neither group seemed to grasp that Jesus knew what they were up to even when they did not think he was around. They thought he occupied one space and they were clueless he was embedded in persons and situations outside their awareness. Jesus is present in the least ones, the lost ones, and the last ones and that fact both challenges and unsettles us.
The parable challenges us to pay attention to our own behaviour. We, too, are not aware that God is paying attention, God is here. Jesus is trying to open us to a new sense of awareness.
The choir will help us see that we are not alone, God is with us.
Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is a prayer of gratitude, for a spirit of wisdom and revelation, and that the eyes of their heart will be enlightened and they would know the hope for which they are being called. It is those words, the eyes of the heart, that remind us that the heart is the core of human existence. It is the place of spiritual discernment; the heart is the real us. What Paul is proposing and praying for them is that the eyes of their heart would be open so they can understand things that were previously hidden to them.
The Eyes of the heart is God’s awareness in us that we pay attention before the fact.
You may have seen the movie Evan Almighty. Evan Baxter is a News anchor who becomes a Congressman and is tapped by God (played by Morgan Freeman) to build another Ark like Noah. Evan’s wife and family think he is crazy, so they leave him.
God shows up as a waiter in a restaurant to help Evan’s wife understand that Evan is not crazy but quite sane. God asks her these questions that seem relevant to our story today: “If someone prays for patience does God give them patience or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If someone prays for courage does God give them courage or does he give them the opportunity to be courageous? If someone prays for their family to be closer does God give them fuzzy feelings or does he give them the opportunity to love each other?”
We can see those opportunities to be patient, to be courageous, to love as God loves. Those are the times that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger. God is paying attention to us, not in a punitive judgemental way, but God is present, God is always with us.
Where do we see ourselves in this story told by Jesus? It is easy to question, as I did with Robert, did I do enough?
Christ the King is the One who knows our beginning and our ending, our ups and downs and recognizes us when we may not recognize ourselves. Faith is not something you believe or talk about; it is an act of the heart beyond our recognition.