Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46 (Last Sunday: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Jesus is found in places of suffering, both with the one suffering and with the one giving mercy, in the most mysterious of ways.

In the seventeenth century, a Flemish artist, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, composed a painting titled, “The Seven Acts of Mercy.” What I like about the painting is its common depiction of everyday life.

The artist invites you into a public square. In the distance, you can see the road leading into town. As the road moves closer to the viewer, the village becomes more populated. First you pass several homes. Then the road opens into the marketplace, where a dog lazily walks through the streets.

In the town square, there are clusters of people. Some are getting bread. Others are putting on garments. Several are drinking. The square is crowded and full of activity.

Brueghal Acts of Mercy

If you did not know the title of the painting, you would not be able to identify these activities as anything special. It just looks like a day in a local village with lots of activity going on... and that is the point.

The seven works of mercy performed in this painting are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Only when you see the title do you suddenly realize the naked being clothed, the sick being visited, the hungry and thirsty being fed.

In addition, those performing these acts of mercy are more interested in caring for people than they are in doing something for God. Their eyes are not turned to Heaven. No, they are focused on the world around them and helping people in need. That is the beauty of the painting. God’s work is being done in the world, abundantly, graciously, selflessly, not as a program of the Church, but as a part of daily life.

In our reading today from Matthew, Jesus offers us a vision of the final judgment. Jesus says, on that day, He will return in His glory with His angels. The scene is astounding. Jesus will be seated on a glorious throne. All of the nations will be gathered before Him. Jesus will open up a kingdom which has been prepared for His people from the foundation of the world! The majesty and glory of God’s eternal rule are overwhelmingly present.

Then, something even more amazing happens. Jesus begins to focus on the smallest of activities being done or not done by individual people. Nations from all times and all places are gathered before Him and He opens our eyes to a visit in a hospital room, a casserole delivered the day after a funeral, a coat dropped off at a winter clothing drive, or a moment when such a need was not recognized.

For those who are wondering where Jesus is now, after His ascension and before His return in judgment, Jesus is more present in our world than we realized.

 For those who are wondering where Jesus is now, after His ascension and before His return in judgment, Jesus is more present in our world than we realized.

Jesus is found in places of suffering, both with the one suffering and with the one giving mercy, in the most mysterious of ways. Care for the stranger, for the marginalized, for the hospitalized, for the imprisoned, for the dying, is care for Jesus Himself.

Really, this should not surprise us. After all, in His ministry, Jesus identified with the lowliest of people. The lepers on the side of the road, the Samaritan woman at the well, the widow of Nain, the tax collectors and prostitutes, those who were despised and suffering and forsaken were found and loved by Jesus. Such identification with the lowly was eternally solidified when Jesus hung upon the cross, claiming every sin which separates people from God and every suffering that devastates God’s world, and died under the burden that He might rise and bring God’s blessing to the world.

Yet rather than bring God’s blessing in one glorious moment of restoration, Jesus lets God’s love flow through His people, like a spring watering the earth. He is there among His people. Their acts of mercy are connected to Him, empowered by him. Whether they know it or not, His love has inspired their compassion. And, wonderfully, He is there among the suffering as well. He is found doing what He always did in His life of ministry, identifying with them in their needs.

So, when we care for the suffering, we are caring for Jesus. Those who serve, those who care, those who stay up late at night sitting by the hospital bed of someone who is dying, are doing this work from Jesus, for Jesus without even knowing He is there. They are part of a mysterious gracious embrace to be revealed only on the last day, when, as the apostle Paul says, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

At the beginning of His ministry in Matthew, Jesus gathered the crowds around Him on the mountain and promised a future blessing upon the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Now, at the end of His ministry, Jesus promises us He will do something similar. He will gather all nations before Him.

Those who have refused to believe in Him will see His presence so close to them throughout their lives in the world as they are judged for their sin. Those who have believed in Him will see something almost unbelievable. He has been present in the giving and the receiving of mercy all of these days, in all of these places, in all of these ways. These small moments of love have been instances of God’s eternal heartbeat, His immersion in giving and receiving mercy in a fallen world until the day when He returns just as He has promised.

Until that day, we take it one day at a time, living by faith and sharing God’s grace through loving service in the world.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 25:31-46.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 25:31-46.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 25:31-46.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 25:31-46.