When did you?

December 20th, 2022

This article is featured in the The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2023 issue of Abingdon Preaching Annual We are sharing it here to support your preaching work in these final days of Advent, as we look toward a new year and renewed preaching!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46

Preacher to Preacher Prayer

Gracious God, may all that we do be done in love, expecting nothing in return for ourselves. And may all that we do for those in whom we consider the least of these be done without placing ourselves at odds with those we consider to be rich, and with whom we don’t agree. Rather, let us serve for your sake alone. Amen.


“When you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (v. 40). These are familiar words for most of us. Most preachers have preached or taught this verse at some point in their ministry. I guess you can say we are drawn to it. Maybe we like the simplicity of it or the way it makes us feel good about the things we are doing for others, if we are indeed doing them. We can pat ourselves on the back and call ourselves “good sheep.” But are we? Is it really that simple, or do we oversimplify it because we fail to have the imagination for the rich imagery Jesus is using here to make his point? 

This is the final parable Jesus will tell in the Gospel of Matthew before he faces his own judgment. Jesus is giving us one last point of clarification in case we still haven’t understood. It is as if Jesus says, “This is it! All the words I have said can be summed up in this: if you forget everything else I’ve taught you, here it is one last time.” When it is all said and done, “when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne” (v. 31), and each will stand before him and be judged. Now, I’m not sure about you, but I don’t necessarily like the way that sounds, but it’s simple, right?

The imagery Jesus uses is the nations being gathered and separated into two groups. Jesus has returned and stands before them as the Great Shepherd, the image Matthew uses throughout his Gospel when depicting Jesus. The flocks throughout Palestine during this time were often mixed herds, consisting of both sheep and goats. At night the sheep and goats often had to be separated because goats couldn’t be left in the cold. The sheep, however, would rather be in the open air. Sheep were also preferred because they were of more value than that of their goat pasture-mates. 

So, the nations are standing before the Son of Man. In other words, each of us is standing before Jesus, fully seen, with all of our agendas, mixed motives, and broken relationships, and we’re asked one simple question. But is it really that simple? When I read Fred Craddock’s sermon on this scripture titled “When He Shall Come,” I began to think differently. Craddock said, “When I listen to people talk, sincere and dedicated members of various churches, it is seldom that I hear a discussion that centers upon this question, which is, in the mind of God, the ultimate question.”[1] We all hope we’ll be judged in another way. In our society today, we talk more about the sins of the world. We have a long list of those. We even like to give some sins more weight than others, hoping to separate ourselves from the “goats.” But, sin is not what is included in this final judgment. Jesus asks one question. When did you? 

When did you ask me how you could help when I felt all alone in this world; as a single mom doing all I could to keep a roof over my kids’ heads, crying myself to sleep every night because I was tired, lonely, and afraid?

When did you introduce yourself to me when I walked into your church wearing that old brown coat and tattered ball cap and made everyone feel uneasy because of the lost look in my eyes? I just wanted to know that someone could care about me too.

When did you continue to offer me and the others like me (very different from you) a meal even when the neighbor down the street scowled, accused, and made complaints about me?

That’s the question. When? That’s the judgment according to this familiar scripture that we all are drawn to in Matthew’s Gospel. Simple enough.

Bringing the Text to Life

Years ago, when I first answered my call to ministry, I began as a youth director. I quickly sought out mission opportunities to get the youth involved in serving others. I have always felt that it is through relationships and serving others that we can not only share Christ but can experience Christ like never before. I came across a mission camp, “M25,” led by a man named Gabe Barrett. My youth group attended this camp for years while I was their leader.

On our first night there that first year, Gabe told a story of his time out in Los Angeles after he graduated from college. He said he was trying to discover himself and what he was to do in this life. He decided to volunteer down at skid row in the soup kitchen, serving folks food and even cleaning toilets. One evening he left the soup kitchen feeling extremely overwhelmed so his buddy took him on a hike. The trail ended on the edge of a mountain looking over all of LA. Gabe could see the vast city for miles, even the iconic “Hollywood” sign in the distance. He stood looking over the millions of lights below him and felt helpless. He said, “God, what can I possibly do? I can’t change this world.” He stood for a moment and what he heard back was “Gabe, you don’t have to change the world, just change someone’s day.”

Maybe that is the final question for us. When did you change someone’s day?


[1] Fred B. Craddock, The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 96.

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