Gospel Text: Matthew 25: 31-46
When I was in elementary school I had one of those Magic Eye books. Do you remember those? They were huge in the 90s. the first three publications spent a combined 73 weeks on the New York Times best sellers list. Those books contained these large, colorful patterns and if you stared at the page long enough a three-dimensional image would appear and magically float on the page. For example, the original image might look like blobs of paint crudely stirred together by a stick, but within the image was a 3D image of an elephant.
Magic Eye Books required special tactics in order for your eyes to make out the 3D image. I find it interesting that those tactics always made you look like a complete buffoon, but you had to use them in order for the books to work. One strategy was to hold the page close to your face, at the tip of your nose an then you would slowly move the book back, away from you face. The second strategy was to look at the center of the page, cross-eyed, and then to relax your eyes and stare at the page, trying not to focus on the 2D graphic.
I was an abject failure when it came to Magic Eye. I had this entire book filled with hidden images and I believe I was only ever able to find two of them. Two lousy 3D images. That’s it. The book even had a map of each drawing in the back and I would consult those answer keys, but to no avail. Ninety percent of the time the book just looked like intricate blobs of paint. And yet, my friends could pick up this book and within seconds I would hear sounds of amazement as they uncovered the hidden spectacles.
It’s remarkable that people can stare at the same page and see completely different images. I mean, it’s understandable with an optical illusion book like Magic Eye, but quite often we all view the world through different lenses. We may look at a public news event in real time with each other, whether it be a pandemic, a protest, an election, one group of people sees a geometric arrangement of paint and another spies a three-dimensional horse. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to briefly check out the headlines on Fox News and CNN at the same time to see how differently they report the news. It’s fascinating to see the stark contrast that exists in our lenses.
In the Gospel lesson we also see the reality of different lenses or different interpretations between the people at Jesus’ left side and the people at his right—the sheep and the goats. Both groups witness the same spectacles in their lives, but they have different responses. They all see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned…but how will they respond? How will they view these people? Will they react to these sights with compassion or will they react with indifference? With which lens will they witness the world?
Based off of Jesus’ words, the sheep take action and are moved to ministry while the goats do nothing. One group actively works to help create the Kingdom of God Jesus envisions while the others do not. The story raises the question: Who is worthy of our attention and resources and who is not?
If you read closely you’ll find that both the sheep and the goats are surprised by Jesus’ judgment. In fact, both groups ask the same question: “Lord, when did we see you…?” As Jesus speaks, we learn that there is yet another lens. First there were lenses of compassion and indifference. Now, Jesus teaches us about a godly lens, the lens of Christ.
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus teaches us that he is present, especially in the plight of those who are suffering. If we wish to see Jesus, we must look no further than the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. If we wish to see God, if we wish to serve God, then we need not look any further. This is what it means to look through the lens of Jesus Christ.
I believe we find Christ in our neighbors when we act with compassion, when we receive the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know the hope, the promise, and the good news to which God has called us. The Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see. God gives us the gifts to respond.
Today we celebrate Christ the King, a festival where we bear witness to Jesus’ supremacy over the world. As Christians we anticipate Jesus’ reign over creation and we wait for the day when Jesus’ perfect vision for the world will be our reality. However, this day also comes with a sour truth, one that we all know too well, especially in this year of 2020. Our world is far from the ultimate reign of God’s Kingdom. Our communities lack the love, peace, mercy, and justice that exemplify Jesus’ Kingdom. Our lives, our government, our economy, and our relationships do not see with the eyes of our heart. Too often we fail to see Jesus in the face of our neighbor.
Open the eyes of our hearts Lord. We wish to see you. Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, that we may seek the common good, that we may promote a world and community that you would be proud to reign over. Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, so we may not see others who are different as the enemy, as someone to hate, or as someone to ignore, but as your stand-in…your ambassador. Open the eyes of our hearts and move us to action in your name.
I know that it is much easier said than done, but the world would be much better off if we recognized Christ in every person we interacted with, if we came to each other’s defense, spoke well of our neighbors, and interpreted everything people did in the best possible light. That would be living according to Luther’s understanding of the Eighth Commandment. It’s tough because it is far easier to remain disconnected, to maintain a self-righteous attitude, and to be judgmental of everything we disagree with instead of connecting and working together.
But in Christ we see the good news—for Jesus came to this earth to heal, feed, love, and gather us into a kingdom where we might all find a place. We are invited to a table where we all can have a seat. We are invited into a house where we all have a room. Christ’s presence extends beyond the walls of the church and into the faces of those who are being consumed by the forces and kingdoms of this earth. And now, equipped by the Holy Spirit, we are given eyes, we have the compassionate lens, to live out the hope of the Gospel, to build up the Kingdom, and to see the face of Jesus Christ as we do ministry.
Help us to see you Lord. Open our eyes. AMEN