His glory filled the place but it had a different feel this time. The expected overwhelming awe and desire to worship was a reduced to a calm hum in the distant background and the sense of love and joy had been replaced by a very serious but gentle justice.
The Son of Man sat on His throne of glory, ready to address the crowd. Behind Him stood all the holy angels, their eyes quietly scanning the crowd. Before Him all the nations were gathered, waiting, watching.
I too stood there waiting. The sense of peace cascading into my soul was evident on the faces of some of those around me, yet others seemed to be filled with questions, conviction or even dread.
As Jesus started to separate us, some to the left and some to the right there were some murmurs of recognition as whispers of “Matthew 25” wove through the crowd.
A strong memory was stirred up among Bible believers. We knew what this was. It was the great judgement of how we had treated the poor. It was Jesus’ last sermon to His followers on the day before that long, long day that ended at the cross.
As Jesus spoke forth the words of cursing over the goats, condemning them as they had condemned the poor a tall, very skinny man muttered “But I AM the poor!” Shocked silence fell over the crowd like a dark cloud.
While all eyes were on Jesus Christ, I noticed something strange cross over the faces of a small group of angels to His left. It happened so quickly, so quietly I almost missed it. Across their faces flickered shock, knowledge, righteous anger, love.
Jesus said nothing but just pointed to the same small group of angels my eyes had been drawn to. This man must have seen something I didn’t because almost immediately his body language changed and he broke down, falling to his knees sobbing. The angels looked just the same to me, and to those around. We didn’t understand what had just happened, but somehow we knew deep inside that justice and grace had collided before our eyes.
Mere moments and an eternity later I stood there among the sheep listening to my Saviour speak a blessing over us for what we had done for His poor. In my heart I knew I had given some to the poor, but never felt it was of much value. Maybe this doubt flittered across my features, or maybe Jesus looked directly into my soul, but even before this feeling of unworthiness could settle in to fight His thanks Jesus stopped and looked directly at me.
And just like He did to the tall, skinny man, He did to me. No words were spoken, He simply looked towards a small group of angels and my eyes followed His.
At first I just saw holy angel faces. I couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to make me see. I blinked and looked again. In a moment the angels before me changed. While their face was the same this time I saw them like the last time I’d seen them. Not as angelic beings but as the poor.
There was Mary, the old lady I had kindly spoken to at the bus stop and helped across the street. There was Tom, who I had served at the soup kitchen for a couple of months before suddenly stopped coming. I could see the young boy Jimmy who came to our kids club a few times and ate all the snacks his dirty little hands could carry. There was Pedro who I bought pens from on a dirty street in Indonesia. And a homeless man I’d passed on a busy city street.
I glanced over my shoulder to see if any of those around me saw the same thing and noticed that in the crowd some faces jumped out to me as if spotlighted. There were tears in those eyes. I looked again and my eyes locked with my sponsored child Manuel and then his Mum. There was Sally from my kindergarten class and Luke from my kid’s school. There was Grandma Ada who I’d driven to and from church. So many faces from throughout my life. Some I didn’t even know were poor. All people I had helped in one way or another. As my eyes went from one to another, in each I saw a little reflection of the face of Christ.
Turning back towards the angels, tears running down my cheeks and love filling my heart, I realised that Jesus had no only sent His children for me to serve but He had also sent His angels disguised as the poor. These angel faces I’d seen before, as the poor in my world. They had been opportunities to give, tests of love. Some opportunities I’d taken and passed, some tests I’d rejected and failed.
In that moment I knew what the tall skinny man had seen. He also had seen the poor angel faces that had come his way. Disguised as ones poorer than him as a chance to see how he would treat these angels. A test he had failed in his pride of self-poverty. For there is always one poorer than our self to whom we can give.
Now I knew why all the holy angels were present. It wasn’t just as witnesses to the Son of Man’s judgement. It wasn’t out of curiosity or by command. They were there as evidence of opportunities presented to each of us as poor angel faces. There can be no question, no doubt that each and every one of us has been called, commended, expected to help the poor as an expression of our love for Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.
As I revisited Matthew 25 again recently I was struck by the fact that all the holy angels will be there at this judgement. I know that angels do come to people, disguised as the poor, asking for help. As far as I know it hasn’t happened to me but it has to a few Christians I respect. These two things led me to write the above. I don’t have Biblical evidence to prove will happen the way I’ve described but it just might. We don’t know whether the poor we serve are angels or not but really would it, should it, make any difference? I think not.