Connections 11.22.2020: What You Don’t (and Do) Know

Matthew 25:31-46

We have a saying: “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” As with many sayings, that one expresses only a partial truth. On one hand, it’s true that not knowing someone’s negative opinion of me can’t hurt me. On the other hand, it’s not true that having an undiscovered malignant tumor can’t hurt me.

This week’s lesson text suggests that what you don’t know can actually help you. It can at least reveal something positive about you.

Jesus tells a parable about sheep who get to enter the kingdom of God and goats who don’t.

Two things about the sheep jump out at me.

First, they didn’t know they were ministering to Jesus when they helped people in need.

Jesus tells the sheep that they can enter the kingdom because they helped him when he was in need. They are confused by this statement. “When did we ever help you?” they ask. Jesus responds by telling them that whenever they helped someone in need, they were actually helping him.

That first observation about the sheep leads to the second one: the possibility that they are ministering to Jesus couldn’t motivate their helping acts. Since they didn’t realize that Jesus was present in the people they helped, they couldn’t help people in order to gain favor with Jesus.

Why then did they help people in need? There are many possible answers to that question. Here’s the one I’ve settled on: their authentic humanity motivated their helping actions. Being authentically human, they recognized their connection with other human beings. Being authentically human, they loved their neighbors as they loved themselves. Being authentically human, they did unto others as they would have others do unto them.

Knowing what the parable says about the sheep puts us at something of a disadvantage to them because having heard the parable, we know what the sheep didn’t. We know that Jesus is in fact present in people who need our help. That makes it hard for us not to think that we’re helping Jesus when we help others, which in turn makes it hard for us not to help them-and-Jesus, rather than helping them just because of our shared humanity. That in turn could lead to our helping people because we think we feel obligated to, lest Jesus think we don’t love him.

Maybe we can look at it this way. As Christians, we love and follow Jesus. Loving and following Jesus should make us more authentically human than we would otherwise be. Being authentically human should lead us to loving and helping our fellow human beings with no thought of reward beyond the joy and privilege of sharing our humanity.

We can’t help knowing what we know about the presence of Jesus in people in need. But maybe it’s a good thing if we find ourselves helping others just because of who they and we are.

Discussion

  • The parable in this week’s lesson text is a judgment scene. What is the basis for judgment in the parable?
  • Sometimes Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven as a present reality and sometimes as a future one. How can we think about this? How should we live in light of it?
  • How does it make you feel to know that Jesus will judge us? Why does it make you feel that way?
  • Who belongs to “the least of these”? Do we pay appropriate attention to them? Why or why not?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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