How many of you have ever seen a Where’s Waldo book? In these books, there are overly detailed illustrations – so there is a lot to take in. And somewhere in the picture is a little guy in blue jeans and a red and white striped shirt and hat named Waldo. It is the job of the reader to find Waldo – wherever he may be.
In the parable that we heard this morning in our reading from Matthew’s gospel, the Son of Man gathers all of the people of all the earth together, in the same way that a shepherd gathers its flock of both sheep and goats. The Son of Man – the king – separates the sheep and the goats, and then addresses each group. And what do we discover? It turns out that the people have all been playing a giant game of Where’s Waldo, and they didn’t even know it! The king has been in disguise – hiding in surprising places, waiting and wanting to be found.
So the king turns to the ones on his right hand and says, “Come on! The kingdom is yours, for you fed me when I was hungry, you gave me something to drink when you saw that I was thirsty, you welcomed me like a friend, you gave me clothes to wear, you cared for me when I was sick, and you even visited me when I was in prison! Thank you!” But the people on the Lord’s right hand say, “When did we do any of those things for you?” And the king answers them, “Whenever you welcomed the least of these – since they are all part of my family – you welcomed me!”
Then the king turns to the ones on his left hand and says, “How sad that you have chosen to be separated from me! You cursed yourselves, for you gave me no food when I was hungry, you gave me nothing to drink when I was thirsty, you treated me like a stranger, you gave me nothing to wear, you avoided me when I was sick, and you paid no attention to me when I was in prison!” But the people on the Lord’s left hand say, “When did we ever see you in need?” And the king answers them, “Whenever you refused to welcome the least of these – since they are all part of my family – you refused to welcome me!”
Like little children, the ones who were put on the right hand of the king had seen the world as being full of possibilities – not problems. They didn’t know that the king was wandering about, incognito… and it turns out that didn’t matter! Apparently, they treated the people they met like royalty no matter who they were or what their circumstances were. No one was ever seen as being “beneath” them. And, as a result of that attitude, they discovered – much to their surprise – that they had served the king and his family!
But, like well-meaning adults, the ones who were put on the left hand of the king had seen the world as full of problems. They didn’t know that the king was wandering about, incognito, either… but maybe it would have changed their attitude if they had known! Apparently, they treated royalty like royalty…but only when it looked and acted like royalty. They avoided certain kinds of people, thinking and acting as if only certain people were worth their attention and care; some people were “beneath” them. And, as a result of that attitude, they discovered – much to their surprise – that they had neglected and rejected the king and his family!
I wonder how many of us read this parable and try to come up with a formula that will ensure that we, ourselves, will be named as a “sheep” one day. But, searching for a magic formula that ensures that we will find the right people to serve – searching for a formula that ensures that we will discover the King of Kings and serve him, and make sure that we don’t waste our time serving anyone else – is “goat” behavior! The Lord doesn’t want us to think about all of this as some sort of problem that needs to be solved. The Lord wants us to see the possibilities that exist. Life isn’t supposed to be a game where we try to figure out who is who – that isn’t our job! No, we are called to live life in ways that recognize and honor the possibilities that each person we encounter could potentially be the King in disguise. The Lord wants us to see and realize that the King of Kings could be anyone we meet.
So… what do we do? Well, instead of searching for a formula to ensure our being more like the “sheep” than the “goats”, what if we searched for the possibilities? What if we celebrated the possibility that each person we meet in this life could be Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – in disguise? What if we acted on the possibility that everyone who comes into our lives looking to be welcomed and cared for and loved is actually Jesus? What would happen if we started treated everyone like royalty, believing that any or all of them could be members of the family of God?
You may have heard that the Rapture was supposed happen yesterday. You also may have noticed that, well… it didn’t happen. I’m not going to get into any of the theological reasons why or why not there is or is not a “Rapture” to believe in… We’ll save that for another time… But, let’s consider all of the people who believed wholeheartedly that Jesus was coming back yesterday. Many of these people spent fortunes to spread the word that the judgment day would be happening this weekend. Now that it hasn’t happened, can we imagine how they must feel? It is easy to poke fun – and, many of us have. But, mocking these people…well…it doesn’t do anything to further the Kingdom of God, does it?
The events of May 21st that were proclaimed by Harold Camping and others didn’t come to pass, it’s true. But…that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t among us now. I can hear Jesus say: I have returned … in the form of the poor, the stranger, the sick, and the suffering. How you react is your Final Judgment. Good luck.
I believe that this is our challenge: to put away the false notion that there are some people in this world who are “problems” and therefore unworthy of our care and hospitality. We need to do away with that notion, and instead embrace the possibilities that God has created. In this great big jumble of a creation, we know that the Son of God is somewhere among us. How will we recognize him? We probably won’t – and that’s part of the fun. The possibilities of who or where Jesus might be are endless – and so are the ways in which we can serve. Where will you see Christ today? How will you welcome the Lord this week? Sisters and brothers, the possibilities are endless, and the choice is ours. Let us go forth, embracing the possibilities, to love and serve the Lord! Amen.