Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Christ the King (Year A)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Jesus as Judge

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Our Gospel passage today is Jesus’ last speech before his arrest and crucifixion. This is the high point and grand finale of the fifth discourse and of Jesus’ public ministry.[1]

This section is known as “The Judgment of the Nations.” It is the fullest picture of the final judgement in the Gospels.[2]

My experience of mainline Christianity is that we are really uncomfortable with the Jesus that gets angry, that judges, that condemns, that threatens our sense of security and stability with warnings of the apocalypse.

But sometimes judgment can sound like good news, because it heralds the promise of a new era of justice. A leveling of the playing field. An accounting for oppression, indifference and complicity.

And the path that Jesus describes to get there is the bringing to light the realities hidden in the dark recesses of our hearts, institutions and culture.

On October 5th, the New York Times published an investigative article detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, a film producer and former film executive.[3]

By October 8th, he was fired by the board of the Weinstein company, with immediate effect.

Since then, numerous women have come forward to share their experiences of Weinstein’s sexual misconduct.[4]

In the meantime, as allegations continue to surface against Weinstein, it seems as though the floodgates burst open, as women, and some men[5], began to share their stories of sexual violence at the hands of high-profile men in a variety of industries.

The New York Times has compiled a running list of high-profile men who have experienced fallout from accusations of sexual misconduct, and as of November 21st, 34 men are on the list.[6]

On October 15th, actress Alyssa Milano retweeted a post which read: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”[7]

Twitter promoted the #MeToo campaign on its platform of highlighted stories, and within the first 24 hours of its posting, the hashtag was used more than 500,000 times by people from all lines of work.[8] Facebook said that in less than 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the “Me too” conversation, with more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions. According to Facebook, more than 45% of people in the United States are friends with someone who’s posted a message with the words ‘Me too.’[9]

[Pause]

The ugly and painful reality of gender inequality is being brought to light by the widespread, overwhelmingly female, experience of sexual violence. If we ever thought that gender-based violence is something of the past, or something that belongs to other countries, or is a rare occurrence that affects a small proportion of the population, we are in for a jarring reality-check.

A quick look at the statistics underscores the stark reality of gender disparity. We learn that women are almost twice as likely to be victims of sexual violence[10] and men are overwhelmingly perpetrators of sexual violence.[11]

This disparity cannot be chalked up to chance.

There is something deeper, more systemic, more ingrained about our construction of gender identity that results in women’s disproportionate experience of sexual violence.

We’ve seen other unsavoury truths come to light. We’ve learned how institutions and bystanders actively and passively prop up a system that keeps gender-based violence under wraps, and protects the perpetrators because of their status.

We’ve learned how the power imbalance between women and men in our culture play out in the workplace.

Lauren O’Connor, a young actress who submitted and later retracted a memo about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, said: “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”[12]

We’re again invited to reflect on how racial disparities affect cultural norms around gender. The #MeToo movement was started more than 10 years ago by a black female activist and program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, Tarana Burke, who sought to help young women of colour who had survived sexual violence.[13] Why is it gaining this level of traction only now?

Our passage today from Matthew’s gospel fits into the genre of apocalyptic literature.

The Greek word ‘apokalypsis’ literally means “something uncovered” or “revealed”. This literature was written sometime in the 3rd century B.C.E. through the 1st century C.E., a period that encompasses Jesus’ lifetime.[14] Apocalyptic literature is rooted in the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament, which sought to assess the spiritual well-being of Israelite society.

Jesus declares that the sheep and the goats will be separated – and that only the righteous, that is those that seek and serve Christ in the most marginalized - will be saved.

In this passage, it seems that the kingdom of God looks different than what the sheep and the goats anticipated – both parties are surprised to find themselves on the right or left. And both parties are surprised to discover who Jesus is.

Jesus not only models for us in his life what it means to serve the poor and the oppressed, he reveals that he is actually to be found in the poor and the oppressed.

This is the surprise of revelation.

This apocalyptic speech announces that the face of Jesus will be revealed and the kingdom of God will be established. The underlying spiritual reality and health of us as individuals, and of our society, will be dredged up from beneath the murky surface of appearance, status and wealth to surface in the light of the justice, mercy and truth of God.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. The aspect of kingship that Matthew invites us to contemplate is Christ as judge, pronouncing verdicts. These verdicts are not admonishments meant to make us hide in shame, but invitations to take an honest look at our spiritual health.

Matthew highlights the paradoxical nature of Christ’s kingship. Christ is the judge, and also the redeemer; Christ is the exalted, and also the oppressed; Christ is the crucified, and also the resurrected.

And this revelation about who God is, reflects back to us who we are and who we are called to be.

The truth is that we are probably all part sheep and part goat. But Jesus calls us to participate in our salvation, not to turn a blind eye to injustice and poverty, to be humble and single-hearted in sharing the love that God lavishly bestows upon us with others.

And being held accountable is a form of love, a love that cares about the health of our hearts and souls, so much so that it wants to bring out the messy truth of what lies within and steadfastly believes that we can change, heal, and grow.

A biblical scholar writes that apocalyptic literature are: “works of the imagination… their value lies in their ability to envision alternatives to the world of present experience and thereby to provide hope and consolation.”[15]

Jesus’ judgment is rooted in love for us and his creation. Jesus’ judgment provides hope to the oppressed and to those who desperately long for a different world, creating a vision of a kingdom that operates according to the law of love and not the love of power.

Jesus’ judgment provides the hope of redemption, through the opportunity of confession and conversion.

So, as we come to the close of this liturgical year with a celebration of Christ’s reign, let us ponder the state of our personal and collective spiritual health, let us wonder what it might look like to place Christ at the centre of our lives, and may we find comfort in the hope and promise of God’s kingdom.  

Let us pray:

Loving and gracious God, we yearn to be known – fully, without reserve, by you:
We ask for courage to match your love,
honesty to match your generosity,
self-awareness to see your knowledge of us.

That by the time the sun sets,
we will have rent the curtain of our lives,
and let you into the center of it all,
there to abide.

We pray through your spirit of all truth
that our truth opened to your mercy may make us free.[16] Amen.


[1] Benedict T. Viviano, O.P. The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 669 (from the New Jerome Commentary).

[2] Feasting on the Word, Christ the King, Year A. Exegetical.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Weinstein

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41594672

[5]https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/16/dont-forget-ab...

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/10/us/men-accused-sexual-mis...

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/business/media/harvey-weinsteins-fall...

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/business/media/harvey-weinsteins-fall...

[9] http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/17/us/me-too-tarana-burke-origin-trnd/index.html

[10] Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) women and 1 in 17 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives. From: CDC Sexual Violence Fact sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/sv-datasheet-a.pdf. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men experienced sexual violence during their lifetimes. From: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm

[11] For female rape survivors, 98.1% of the time a man was the perpetrator; for male rape survivors, 93% of the time, a man was the perpetrator. From: Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on: http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php  

[12] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allega...

[13] http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/17/us/me-too-tarana-burke-origin-trnd/index.html

[14] John J. Collins. Old Testament Apocalypticism and Eschatology, p. 300. From the New Jerome Commentary.

[15] John J. Collins. Old Testament Apocalypticism and Eschatology, p. 304. From the New Jerome Commentary.

[16] Slightly adapted from Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, ‘Exposed to mercy, truth and newness’, p. 130.