An Open Table where Love knows no borders

When I was hungry, what did you do?

A sermon on Matthew 25: 31-46 by Nathan Nettleton
preached at The Scots Church, Melbourne

The day is coming when Jesus will come as King to reclaim the world and to judge all that is in it. That day is nearer now than it has ever been before. You can’t argue with logic like that can you! When the Son of man comes as King, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. And the people of all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will divide the people into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put one group on his right and the other on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Come and receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, because sometimes I just couldn’t make ends meet. My single parents benefit was never a great income but I usually managed, but sometimes it just wouldn’t stretch any further. One week I had to buy school shoes for my daughter and you know what the price of kids clothes is like, and then the very next day the fridge broke down, and you can’t really do without a fridge for long so I had to get the repair man out. By the time I’d paid him, the rent, and for the shoes, my whole cheque was gone and I had nothing left for food. Well you can’t starve your kid and there was enough in the house to keep giving her some sort of school lunch, but I hadn’t really eaten myself for a few days when you found out what was happening. But you gave me food. You gave me some packets and tins from your own pantry and some zuchinis from your mother-in-law’s garden, and you had us over to dinner at your place twice in one week. But you didn’t make me feel patronized or pitied, you treated me as a friend, as though you reckoned I’d do the same for you, and as though you really enjoyed my company. And you proved that that was true because the next week when I had some money again and I didn’t need help, you asked me over to lunch while the kids were at school and you sat and listened to my story. And you shared your story with me. You became a personal friend instead of just another do-gooder.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Come and receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. For I was a stranger, I was lonely. Even though I was living in the most densly populated area of Melbourne I knew nobody who cared about me and I had nobody I could really call a friend. I thought my English was passable when I came to this country but I found it very hard to understand what people are saying and to follow a conversation. I mean, I couldn’t work out what someone meant when he said, “Owyagoin yaolmug oorite, chuckus a coldie wilya cobba no wuz.” I guess there was still a lot I had to learn about the manners in this country. I didn’t really know how to make friends here, I didn’t understand the sense of humor and I didn’t know what to say or how to behave , and that makes you feel pretty uncomfortable. No one wants to know you when you don’t fit in and when nobody wants to know you you never will. But you were different; you offered me your hand and you called me “friend”. You were patient with me when I didn’t understand things and you took the time to explain and to help me to feel comfortable. You introduced me to your circle of friends and together you gave me time and companionship. You took the time to ask about me and about my country. A few of you helped me with all the paperwork for the family reunion application and you helped me to deal with the immigration department to help me to get my family out here to join me. You got personally involved instead of leaving it to the professionals. You made it clear that your homes were open to me and together you made me feel loved, accepted and valued; you gave me a people, a family, a home.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Come and receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. For I was cold and homeless, because a property development company had bought the rooming house where I lived and several others in the area, and rather than maintain them they had let them decay until the fire brigade ordered them closed down, They wanted to demolish them anyway to make way for a new office development, and I, along with my girlfriend and our baby and 200 other people, was evicted and there was no where for us to go because this was happening all over the area and not enough alternative low cost housing was being provided. But you took a personal interest and you put the three of us up in your spare room until we could find a suitable place to go. Then you, and some of your friends got together and organized a network of people who had spare rooms and could do the same when necessary, and you helped us to deal with estate agents and landlords so that we could get a small flat to live in. You put your own reputation on the line when you lobbied the government and the council and the developers, calling for them to act quickly to ensure that the stocks of low cost housing were maintained so that our story would not be repeated over and over again.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Come and receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. For I was sick. I was scared and I was scarred, inside and out. I ran away from my family when I was 12 years old because my daddy had been forcing me to have sex with him since I was eight and I couldn’t take it any more. But then having got away from that, the only way I could survive was to prostitute myself on the streets to the hundreds of men who are only too willing to part with 20 dollars for half an hour with a pubescent kid. I cringed and screamed inside every time they touched me, but you’ve got to eat somehow, and you’ve got to do something to numb the pain. Some people seem to be able to, but soon I couldn’t let them touch me with their filthy grasping hands unless I was smacked off my brain, and shooting up ain’t cheap so I just had to work more and more. You’d reached out to me before, but I’d turned away; you didn’t belong in my world and I was sure I wasn’t good enough for yours. But at 19, when I was lying in bed in Fairfield Hospital dying of AIDS, you came again on your own initiative and you sat with me and you brought me flowers and told me that you loved me. You could have just given a donation to the hospital or something but you chose to give yourself. No one had ever kissed me before without demanding sex but you kissed my face without asking anything of me, just to say you cared. And you held my hand and cried with me and comforted me as I died.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Come and receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. For I was in prison. I was arrested and, fair enough, I was guilty but the police beat me up at the station and threatened to blow my kneecaps off because they reckoned I deserved it and when I struggled they added an extra charge of assaulting a police officer and I got an extra eighteen months. It’s awful lonely in there shut off from the world but you came and visited me, you made the effort to personally come all the way there to see me. And then you came back with some of your friends, and you all started visting me and some other prisoners regularly. You helped me to know that there were still some on the outside who cared about me, who respected my human dignity and recognized the image of God in me. And you worked for prison reform and for increased police accountability so that I wouldn’t just be brutalized by the system and come out worse than I went in. ”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, we can remember a lot of hungry people but when did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you a stranger and invite you into our circle of friends? When were you evicted and we set you up in a new place? We can remember quite a few people we put up for a week or so but I’m sure we’d remember you if you’d been at our place; I mean, those scars in your hands are pretty distinctive, we wouldn’t have forgotten them. And when were you sick and dying? I remember the hospital but I don’t remember seeing you there. And when were you in prison and we came to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers and sisters of mine, You did it for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Get away from me, you who are cursed. Away to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, when my single parents benefit didn’t go the distance. And you heard about me and you said that people like me should be more responsible with our money and I’d have to wait until I got another cheque. And that anyway people shouldn’t have kids when they aren’t married so it was really my own fault and I’d have to live with the consequences of my own irresponsibility.

Get away from me, you who are cursed, for I was a stranger in an unfamiliar land, and you made no effort to understand. You thought that I was just ignorant and bad mannered and that I should have learned English properly if I wanted to come to this country. You said that people like me were taking jobs away from good, honest, hard working Australians. Besides, you had heard that people from my part of the world were dishonest and immoral, and were responsible for a lot of gang violence in some parts of town and so you were afraid that I’d be a bad influence on your kids so you kept your distance. Nothing I could do was ever likely to help win my way into your circle of friends.

Get away from me, you who are cursed, for I was cold and homeless when the developers evicted me so they could pull down the boarding house to make way for an office development. But you said if there was a problem with homelessness, someone should form a committee and employ a social worker. You had met people who’d lived in boarding houses before and you thought that they usually weren’t very nice people so it was a job for a professional. And the bloke who burgled your house last year and took the video and the stereo had been living in a boarding house not far away. You felt that it really was too nice an area to have boarding houses in it and so it was for the good of the area that they were closed down. Besides, you said, no-one can stand in the way of the market forces, and running boarding houses was an inefficient use of prime real estate so you went out and bought shares in the property development company.

Get away from me, you who are cursed, for I was sick, I was dying of aids. I was a shattered and broken kid who’d never really had a chance. And the closest you ever came to taking any notice of me was when you wrote to the council saying that you didn’t feel safe to walk down the streets any more and that they should do something about keeping prostitutes and drug addicts of the streets. And as for dying of AIDS I guess you figured that it wouldn’t be safe to come near me and that anyway it was surely the judgement of God for my sinful lifestyle and I deserved to die alone.

Get away from me, you who are cursed, for I was in prison and did you care? No, you were pleased because you figured that society needed to be protected from people like me. You reckoned I had to be made to pay for my crimes, that I needed to be taught a lesson and made an example of. You were a bit worried because the courts seemed to be getting so lenient these days and in no time at all I could have been back on the streets. And as for being bashed by the police you figured that if the courts weren’t stringent enough then we needed the police to deal with people like me. “Doesn’t deserve to be treated like a human being, throw away the key,” you said, and you wrote to your local member to advocate the reintroduction of capital punishment.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and not feed you? We didn’t know, you must have us mixed up with someone else. Well, can you get you something now perhaps? When did we see you lonely and lost in a strange culture? You were Jewish or something weren’t you, we figured that the Jewish community was pretty good at looking after their own. When did we see you homeless? I can’t remember ever seeing anyone who was homeless, except maybe on the Salvo ads; You weren’t one of those kids on the tele with the torn jeans and tatts or something were you? When did we see you sick or in prison and did not visit you? We’d have come for sure if we’d known you were in there. We gave some money to the hospital appeal, doesn’t that count for something?”

He will reply, “Get away from me, for I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least or the dirtiest or the wierdest or the sickest of these, my brothers and sisters, you did not do for me. Get away from me, you who are cursed. Away to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.


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