Christ the King: The Poor, Old Soldier
Matthew 25: 31-46
Leo Tolstoy is best known for his monumental work War and Peace, which at 1,225 pages, makes a really good door stop. What most people don’t know about Tolstoy is that he also wrote children’s books, the most notable being Shoemaker Martin. I offer you an abridged version. “ In a certain town there lived a very honest cobbler called Martin. He lived in a tiny basement room. Its only window looked out onto the street where all he could see is the feet of those who passed by. But since there was hardly a pair of boots which had not gone through his hands for repair, he knew everyone by the boots they wore.
Martin had a hard life. His wife died and not long after, his only child, a son. Martin was given to despair. He started to drink heavily. One day a friend encouraged him to read his gospels every night and say a prayer before he went to bed. “Where love is, there is God also,” his friend had said. The words of Christ created new hope in Martin. One night, as he sat reading, he thought he heard a voice calling him. “Martin, Martin, look out the window tomorrow for I will come visit you.” Since he was alone he assumed this to be the voice of God.
Martin spent all day looking for special boots he hadn’t seen before. As the day wore on the only boots he saw belonged to a poor, old soldier he knew called Stephen, who stood clapping his hands together, for it was bitterly cold outside. Martin wished he would move from his window so as not to obstruct his view. The day grew dim. It was then it occurred to Martin that the poor, old soldier had probably not eaten all day. So he tapped on the window and waved him in. Martin sat him by the fire, gave him tea and bread.
As Stephen rose to leave, Martin gave him an old coat of his to shield against the biting cold. Night had fallen and Martin reluctantly closed the shutters. After dinner, he took down the gospels, as was his habit, and came upon these words,
“I was hungry and you fed me.
I was thirsty and you gave me drink.
I was naked and you clothed me.”
Martin understood then that Christ had indeed come to him that day in the person of Stephen and his heart was filled with peace.”
Martin had not known that God had chosen to identify as a poor, old soldier. Those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visit the imprisoned and sick. Those who ignored the hungry, naked, imprisoned and sick did not know that they were ignoring God. Why? Could it be like Martin, in spite of our Bible learning and sharing, we are still looking for something else out our ecclesiastical windows? Could it be that we have isolated ourselves with the concerns of our own little shops, are so exhausted by the filling of our own agendas, are so blinded by our own expectations of the type of boots our King shall wear, that the view out our own windows is obscured by one we are not in a rush to invite in?
Could it be that even though we have heard the ancient story, our hearts have not been softened by its message, that God is like a loving parent; who feels hunger when one of God’s children is hungry, who shivers when one of God’s children is naked, who feels the shackles cut into God’s wrists when one of God’s children is imprisoned, who feels isolation when even one of the least of these, God’s children, lies emotionally quarantined by sickness. That God feels, as any parent feels, when one of their children is hungry, sick or cold. A parent who would be willing at any time to change places with their child if they could. The only difference is, God can change places and God does.
Had Martin not spent time with the gospels and prayed everyday, there may not have been room left in his despair for any glimmer of light. And that is the only difference between the sheep and goats in Jesus’ story. The sheep carry the light of Christ within them, the spirit of compassion, grace, joy and love, spreading that light to those they haven’t even identified with God.
In a few weeks, undeserved by any of us, we will once again receive the greatest gift that could ever be given, God giving God’s own self to us. Unto us, a child shall be born. Will we be as ready as Martin was to receive the gift? Or will the shadows of despair which fill the corners of our small rooms cause us to close the shutters in despondency? Will all the baking, the buying, the wrapping, and the Christmas jingles keep us looking out the window in the hope of what we wish to see, what we imagine Christmas to show up as?
Maybe we should take a page from Martin’s life and make a habit of rereading the ancient story and offering a prayer, so when the child does appear, we might be given the gift of peace by opening the door to a poor, old soldier.