Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sunday next before Advent - Christ the King
Matthew 25. 31-46:
‘Meeting Jesus in the Poor’
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share together some experiences of you meeting people who are desperately poor – maybe on the streets begging, or selling The Big Issue. How did you respond to them and their needs?
Reflection on the text
This parable of the sheep and goats is well known. It is often read and interpreted through the eyes of the individual, yet the main focus is on the behaviour of nations; it is about collective human responsibility in the face of people in desperate need. Matthew’s urban households would have been very aware of the abject poverty and human misery among the seething masses on the streets outside their doors.
Here, Jesus takes hold of future judgement and pitches it into the present moment. The challenge is not about preparing for some far-off moment in time, but responding to the invitation to identify and serve the Christ who is present in the midst of suffering humanity.
Jesus reminds us that, by stopping and attending to the needs of those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick or imprisoned, we stop and attend to him. When we ignore and neglect them, we ignore and neglect him. He identifies himself totally with broken humanity and so should we, as his community of disciples. We should be among the first to recognize him in the oppressed poor. To maintain that we hadn’t a clue it was Jesus we rejected, when we turned away the abused child, the AIDS victim or homeless refugee is inexcusable, always inexcusable. We are called to live inside God’s kingdom and that means a transformation of the body, heart and mind of the church, the Body of Christ.
If Jesus places himself in complete solidarity with the world’s poor, so must we. Indeed, he invites us, his community of disciples, to join him there. We have to undergo a complete shift in perspective, from being above to alongside, from being detached to engaging with those who are marginalized and impoverished, immersed in struggles for dignity and justice. Using the words of Philippians 2 verses 5 – 11, ‘we need a whole new mindset’ which only comes through a process of self-emptying (kenosis). This is deep incarnational living: faith brought into being in us individually and collectively through the power of the Holy Spirit. It can never be realized in our own strength. ‘Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.’
some questions for group discussion:
- Share together your reaction to the particular interpretation given in the ‘Reflection on the Text’ above. What is your understanding of the collective, as opposed to the individual, nature of judgement in this passage?
- Who are ‘the poor’ in your community, town, or city? To what extent is your Christian community in relationship and identified with them? What steps might you take as a community to bridge any gulf between you and them?
- Most often we structure our ministries to ‘the poor’ in top down, paternalistic and condescending ways? How might this be avoided?
- Some say that the poor are God’s gift to us because, if we stay with them long enough, our growing awareness of their poverty and brokenness will help us to see our own inner brokenness and poverty, leading us to greater wholeness. Discuss.
- How does this passage sit with those who see ‘eternal salvation’ solely in terms of individual responses to Christ?
Spread out a map of the world on the floor and, using lighted tea-lights, invite each member to place one on a country of extreme poverty, famine, war or other kind of severe hardship.
Pray for these countries and crises by name, ending with the words, ‘Lord hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto you’.
Ask someone to read aloud and slowly, Revelation 21 verses 1 to 7. Stay in silence for a few minutes lifting up before God this great dream of creation restored.
End by saying three times together: ‘Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus’.
More background information
See the article ‘Towards a welcoming congregation’ by Paul Wadell at http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/53384.pdf
He says… ‘In a world that has grown frighteningly guarded and harsh, Christian congregations are called to imitate the “table manners” of Jesus by being sacraments of God’s hospitality in the world.
In a world of terrorism and war, school shootings, and road rage, it is no wonder that concern for security often triumphs over hospitality to the stranger. But is that the kind of community the Church should be?
We need to recover the conviction that hospitality is essential to the Christian life.’
See also the ‘Hospitality Library’ at http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/index.php?id=50762, Baylor University Centre for Christian Ethics.
Christine Pohl’s article ‘Building a place of Hospitality’, also in that library, is well worth the read.
She says: ‘Because hospitality involves sharing food, shelter, protection, recognition, and conversation, it usually also involves particular places. Unless understood exclusively as a sentiment or an attitude, hospitality has very earthy dimensions—buildings, beds and blankets, pots and pans. In offering welcome, we share our place, make use of what is available, or create new places.’