Four parables in Matthew 24-25 have a common theme lurking in the background. Consider: an owner who leaves his house vacant, and absentee landlord who puts his servant in charge, a bridegroom who arrives so late the guests fall asleep, as master who distributes talents among his servants and takes off.
If effect, Jesus’ four parables anticipated the central question of the modern era, asked by the likes of Nietzsche, Marx, Camus, and Beckett. “Where is God now?” The modern answer is that the landlord has abandoned us. We are free to set our own rules. Deus absconditus.
Reading on, I came to one more parable. I knew well the message of the Sheep and the Goats, but I had never noticed its connection with the parables that precede it. This last parable answers the question raised by the others, the issue of the absentee landlord, in two ways.
First, it gives a glimpse of the landlord’s return, on judgement day, when there will be hell to pay–literally.
Second, the parable gives an insight into the meantime, the mean time, the centuries-long interval when God seems absent. Matthew 25’s answer is at once profound and shocking. God has not absconded at all, but instead has taken on a most unlikely disguise of the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the ragged ones of earth. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of min, you did it for me.”
Jesus final parable leaves the church with a heavy burden, yet one that offers the only lasting solution for the world. We must oppose anarchy by insisting that there is a leader, a landlord for the entire planet, who, unlike some policemen, will dispense perfect justice. Furthermore, until the landlord’s return it is up to us to demonstrate God’s presence. We reach out to needy places not out of paternalism, but out of love. By serving the needy, we serve God in disguise.