Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was in second grade, my teacher noticed that I was having trouble seeing the writing on the blackboard. So my mother took me to the optometrist. It turned out that I was nearsighted. I remember, so well, the day I got my first pair of glasses. We were driving home when I looked out the window. For the first time I could see everything so clearly! I could see each individual leaf on the trees we passed. It was amazing!
Today’s Gospel reminded me of this incident, because all the people in the reading are surprised by what Jesus says. But not in the way we might expect. The sheep don’t boast of their good deeds, and the goats don’t apologize for their lack of action. Their responses are very similar, “Lord, when was it that we saw you?” and “Lord, when was it that we didn’t see you?”
It is understandable, I guess, especially considering the common expectation that a king is powerful and important. Even in the first verse of today’s reading, as we hear “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory,” it leads the reader to expect a powerful and just ruler. Maybe they were surprised that they should or could have recognized Jesus in such strange places and people as the poor and imprisoned, the hungry, and the sick.
This is the last time Jesus will be with the people, preaching and teaching. We know this if we continue reading, the first—very first—verse in next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel begins with, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days, the Passover is coming; and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
When we read passages in the Gospel, it is important to understand where that reading fits into the story of Jesus. What does it mean that Jesus says these things about the king coming in his glory, just as he is going to the cross? For me, hearing about the king of glory and the crucifixion so close together reminds us that God comes to us in many ways: in the faces of our neighbors near and far, the King of Glory who created everything, and most importantly, in the incarnation of Jesus, who is willing to give his life for the love of the world. Amen.