The Way We Treat Jesus

So when those friends of Jesus who had actually lived as friends of Jesus stood before God, they were welcomed into the Kingdom with raucous greeting. They were even taken aback a little by all the exuberance when Jesus threw his arms wide and beamed like he’d just seen his favorite uncle. “Thank you, dear friends, for feeding me and clothing me and welcoming me.”

Those friends, though glad to hear such effusive praise, were more than a little perplexed. “Uhh…thank you, Jesus. We always hoped we were living faithful to your Way, but..ummm…remind us again when exactly we fed you and clothed you and welcomed you?”

“Oh, yes,” Jesus answered, “it’s easy to not know you’re dealing with me in the world, isn’t it…since I’m always there, always present, always showing up in the middle of the life you’re already living and in the people you see every day.”

The friends glanced at one another, hoping someone knew what the heaven Jesus was talking about.Mercifully, Jesus continued. “Well, when I was your hungry neighbor, you filled my belly. When I was shivering without a coat, you handed me a winter parka. And when I stood, trembling and lonely as an immigrant in your country, you greeted me like a friend.”

{a retelling of Matthew 25}

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Immigration is a complicated issue. However, not as complicated as we’re making it. I can not imagine any scenario where this story goes in such a way that our country’s current practice of separating immigrant and refugee children from their mothers and fathers finds Jesus saying to us: “Thank you, friends, for how you treated me.”

Politicos may approach these questions with sterile calculus, but as followers of Jesus, we think and act in an entirely different way. We care for and befriend those at the margins, we come alongside the most vulnerable (children) because Jesus says in so doing, we are caring for and befriending him.

Revolutionary Shepherd

When we say, The Lord is my shepherd, we have just contradicted the powers of this world and the anxieties of our soul. If the Lord is truly my shepherd, then truly, I shall not want. Truly, I have everything I need. And if we do not live in want, if there is no lack and we really do have all that is necessary to make our way in this life we’ve been given, then what in God’s name do we fear?

We fear that the ‘enough’ will peter out. We fear that we will not be seen, that our voice or our words won’t matter. We fear that aloneness is our final lot. Too many of us fear there will be no food at the end of the month or that our children will never escape the violence. We fear the lurking dread that we will be found out, stark naked in the square, our insufficiency and foolishness bare to all. We fear that it’s all a lie, we fear that we don’t have all we need.

Yet to every fear, this pronouncement: The Lord is my shepherd.

And this is the shepherd who lays us down in green meadows and guides us beside clear, blue waters. In a culture that knows next to nothing of gentleness and peace, this is a strange and beautiful promise.

As we know too well, however, all is not sunshine and clovers. It’s interesting to me that, on certain years, the lectionary has us pray Psalm 23 in both Lent and Easter. The Shepherd is with us in life, and in death. Life under the shepherd’s care does not mean we’ve found the lucky formula for circumventing the dark sinkholes of our world, not in the least. The shepherd showed us the cries of one abandoned. The shepherd descended into the hellish caverns. Then the shepherd says, follow.

And follow we can, with boldness and hope and even a bit of wanderlust in our eye – because even when we go (and we will) through the valley of the shadow of death, we possess the courage to stare evil down and say, “Move over, bub. I’m passing through. The Shepherd’s got this.”

Our lives are more secure than we’ve ever imagined. But it is a disruptive security because it means we relinquish authority over defining what it is we need — and we like to be in charge of what we need. We like to keep tally, and we find a perverse comfort in fretting over our future. However, there is no need to fret, no need to keep score, no need to fear.

As St. Augustine said, “When you say ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ no proper grounds are left for you to trust in yourself.” And when you don’t have to carry the weight of trusting in yourself, you’re free as a lark.