(11/22) Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 95:1-7a • Ephesians 1:15-23 • Matthew 25:31-46
In this week's Matthew passage, a lot is happening on many levels. It's confusing, at least to me. There is the judgment day theme, a king, sheep and goats, and a lot of surprised people. In the scripture passage, the king explains to those who had shown kindness and mercy to others that in doing so, they had shown kindness and mercy to his family: and indirectly, to him. It did not matter who they had treated with decency and respect – everyone, even the least important, counted. The king also explains to those who had failed to be fair and just to others that they had failed to be fair and just to him.
Somehow, we humans have reversed-engineered a moral message into the story. It is often read as criticism – with a push to do more, try harder, lest one land in the group not doing enough. The more I look at it, though, the less this interpretation makes sense to me. In essence, this is a good news story.
The king, you see, is telling those who are simply showing up in the lives of others that they are inheriting (v. 34) what has always been theirs. And he tells those who are failing to do so that they are damned forever. It is more or less a description of how things are, in the present moment. Those who are attending to relationship processes are blessed, now and later.
At its most basic level, attending to relationships begins with staying in touch. It involves having enough contact with family members that one would know, for example, if they were hungry or lonely or ill. Next would come acting on one's responsibilities to others.
More than that, one would know what was important to the other – and they would know the same about oneself. Respecting the other, and their own capacity to solve their problems, can keep the relationship strong. Being clear about one's own thinking – taking I positions – can help. All these processes, though, are available only when one is connected with the aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family that make up one's relationship system. The family is everyone's birthright and each person's inheritance.
In the story, every person – sheep or goat – was surprised. I remember a time when I was surprised to hear someone thank me. At church one fall day, another parent told me that I had really helped him get through a long summer. I asked what I had said, imagining maybe some wise comment in a Sunday School class. Not so much. He told a story about the first day of summer swim practice, seeing each other as we dropped off our kids. Both of us, of course, were facing long summers of trying to juggle work and parental responsibilities. Apparently, I'd said, "only 89 days until school starts back!"
Just being oneself with others is enough. Showing up is what matters. The good news? That's the only criteria for making it to the sheep side of the room.
Morning: Who in my family network am I distanced from now?
Evening: In what relationships could I define myself more clearly?
Psalm 95:7a For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.