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St. James' Glastonbury
Episcopal Church

Weekly Message from Rev. Matt Handi

Message from

The Rev. Matt Handi

November 22, 2023


Matthew certainly is not letting us off easy as we get to the end of this Season after Pentecost. In fact, the gospel readings have been quite difficult to digest. Two weeks ago, we heard about the bridesmaids who were excluded from the wedding banquet. Last week we read about the parable of the talents where a very nervous and anxious man hid the money given to him by a cruel master rather than risking it all by investing it. And finally, this week’s lesson tells us the story about the sorting of sheep and goats.

What is implied in the parable of the sheep and goats is that some folks will be denied entrance into the kingdom of heaven while others who have lived righteously and fulfilled all the commandments will be welcomed.

Here’s the rundown. Matthew tells us when Christ returns, he will gather all the nations before him for judgement. And he will separate the righteous from the unrighteous like a shepherd separates goats from sheep. And the righteous will be blessed and the unrighteous will go into eternal punishment.

But wait. What about God loving all of us? God forgiving all of us? God naming each of us as God’s own? Was that all balderdash and hokum? Because at one point I thought we were told all we had to do was love God and love our neighbor. Have things changed? Am I not one of God’s own? Have I been misinformed?

Good Lord: am I a goat?

Well, there’s two points to consider here. First, who is Matthew talking about when he writes about goats? And second, well, we’ll get to the second point soon.

Who is Matthew talking about? When Matthew talks about “the nations” he is usually speaking of Gentiles. Those who already have faith in Christ are not considered those among the nations. (It’s good to point out that Matthew’s audience, the people he is writing his gospel for and to, is specifically Jewish believers in Christ in the later first century.) So those amongst the nations are those who haven’t necessarily been exposed a great deal to Jesus’ teachings.

The test might then become this: Did you live a good life? And that test then extends back to Matthew’s first intended audience and now asks of us the same. Did we live a good life. For we are dealing now with faith and the fruit that is formed from faith.

Have we led a good life. Have we fed the hungry? For when we feed the hungry, we feed Jesus. Have we given the thirsty something to drink? For when we sate the thirst of others, we sate the thirst of Jesus. Have welcomed the stranger? For when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus. Have we clothed the naked? For when we clothe the naked, we clothe Jesus. Have we visited the sick or the prisoner? For when we visit the sick or the prisoner, we visit Jesus.

Whatever we do for the least of us, we do that for Jesus.

And so, Matthew is speaking of the nations, of the Gentiles, as the ones to be sorted. Yet after the Jerusalem council we read about in the Acts of the Apostles, the Gentiles are now considered part of God’s people. That council moved us into a stance of radical love and radical welcome. No longer was Christian scripture to be limited to just Matthew’s audience or Luke’s readers, etc., but to all the world.

It is then on us to realize that righteousness is a real thing. This is not a parable but a series of works to be performed. That whole list about clothing and feeding people? That is exactly what we need to be doing. Those are the fruits formed of our faith; the works we perform because of our faith.

The second point then follows: Yes, these chapters in Matthew can be received harshly, but remember God is always pursuing us, to bring us back to the freedom found in God. Remember that the overall theme of the bible, from Creation until now, is the story of God’s love for us and Christ’s ever presence in our lives.

And if we perform the works we are given to do, then the harsh rhetoric found in these end-times parables and stories will become moot because through our faith, we will have served Jesus.

And not only that, we will have served each other and the world.

For that we can give thanks. Just as I give thanks for all of you!

A blessed holiday weekend to you all and happy Thanksgiving!