“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Mt 25:34-40
It’s hard to imagine seeing royalty in our midst but not recognizing it. Our references of kingly imagery are dwindling in twenty-first century America, but on a basic level one might expect to see a motorcade or some fine jewelry.
I’ve yet to see a depiction of any Royal who is hungry, imprisoned, ill, and anonymous, as Jesus describes in Matthew 25 (although it’s still possible this will feature in Season 5 of The Crown).
In this encounter Jesus tells his disciples that God, who is the King of Israel, has appeared to them. But they missed the sighting, repeatedly.
In offering this paradox of a King as a stranger, Jesus is asking us to reconsider our own ways of looking for God. Jesus is asking us:
Where do we see God? How do we see God? And in what ways are we looking for God?
In modernity, Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ (1940) is the most reproduced depiction of Jesus in the world – and arguably the greatest marketing phenomenon of the twentieth century. Head of Christ (1940) was first adapted from Sallman’s charcoal illustration for a 1924 cover of Covenant Companion, the denominational magazine for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Called by some as “the Manly Role Model Jesus”, this depiction of an impeccably well-groomed Jesus of Nazareth is complete with flowing golden hair, blue eyes and a Nordic nose. There are accounts of people who have felt such an intense connection to this representation of Christ that they’ve exclaimed, “it really looks like him!”
Warner Sallman Head of Christ, 1940
Regardless of Jesus’ ethnicity – and we can be certain that he was not Germanic – there’s a certain pattern of looking for Jesus which tends to reproduce itself. I think this dynamic of how we look for God is at play within each of us, and is also as old as the scriptures. In Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples didn’t comprehend that Jesus appeared as a needy stranger. They ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?” (Mt 25:37,44).
When did we see you?
Jesus challenges them and us. Can you see that the Royal King of Israel is in such solidarity with the poor that God has in fact become poor himself? It’s a rebuke and an invitation. Jesus invites us into a way of looking for God that will surprise us.
Historically speaking, Jesus of Nazareth came to live on earth as a middle eastern man. He was homeless (Lk 9:58), at one point a child refugee (Mt 2:14-15) who shared meals with the twenty-first century equivalent of sex workers and while-collar criminals (Mt 9:10).
Where do we see God? How do we see God? In what ways are we looking for God?
Jesus invites us into a way of seeing that might bend and stretch our preconceptions of God’s royalty, God’s power, and God’s mercy. It’s a joy to look for God together.
– Mother AliceTags: From the Clergy, Hope for the Journey