Do we like surprises? As I think about it, I would probably answer, “it depends.” I know I like to surprise others and must admit to having a penchant for playing practical jokes, and while I have become more sensitive to time, place and personalities targeted, I’m not completely “rehabilitated.” I’ve learned that not everyone shares my sense of humor. I, myself, don’t really like to be surprised; I’d rather be pleased or displeased with an event or outcome, knowing in advance what might be expected. Yet, there are those, who enjoy surprises and would rather not have any inkling in advance.
This brings me to this week’s Gospel, (Matthew 25: 31-46) which depicts elements of surprise for the good guys and the bad, the sheep and the goats. Both groups were surprised by what Jesus said when they asked “Lord, when did we and when didn’t we…” Why do we suppose this is? Nether group denies their behavior, and both groups registered surprise when they failed to recognize Jesus. Tell the truth, we know that when we do it for the least of our brethren, we do it for God but do we really expect to see Jesus in the face of the disenfranchised, the homeless, the imprisoned and the downtrodden? Don’t we really prefer to look for him as the royal figure depicted in the words of Mathew as he gathers all the angels with him, and sits on the throne of his glory with all the nations assembled before him?
This is a deliberate set up in Matthew as we are expected to be surprised and wonder when did we or didn’t we? And really, the least of my brethren. Don’t these words come much more easily than the reality of recognizing him, and perhaps ourselves, in those who are hurting? Hasn’t “the least of our brethren” become so wrapped up in religiosity and Bible-speak that we let the words flow trippingly off the tongue? Words, words, words. And so we pat ourselves on the back when we provide a few cans of food for those in need in this time of outreach, and we retreat to the comfort of our warm homes as we prepare for our Thanksgiving Holiday. But are we really doing it for the least of our brethren or is it really something we are doing because it’s that time and at least we can keep our discomfort at arm’s length, out of sight and still feel good? While we do thank God for churches and charitable enterprises, as they work to serve the needy, unfortunately, they often keep us safely within, “inside” and insulate us from the reality of God.
Richard Rohr tells us that for centuries all the world’s religions were pointing to heaven or the kingdom of God as something in the “next world.” God is with us, here and now, as revealed in the fellowship of broken people we call church and available to us in the seemingly small gestures of mercy we offer and are offered each and every day. It may not be where we expect God to show up, but it is just where we need him. So, we celebrate Christ the King, not because of his regal bearing, but because of his humility; not because of his power, but because of his compassion and his presence in us and the least of these…