“Then the king will say to those on his right…”

Matthew 11:34

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

There is an interesting shift in the image of Jesus in v34 of the Gospel text. The image shifts from shepherd to king. From the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus has been identified as the king of the Jews (2:2) He was acclaimed king when he entered Jerusalem (21:5). In other parables in the Gospel – such as the Unforgiving Servant (18:21-35) and the Great Feast (22:1-14) – the king refers to God. In this parable, it is Jesus who is the king splitting off those who will enter the reign of God and those who will go off to eternal punishment. God is still the final judge; the king speaks about those on his right who are the “blessed by my Father”.

Whatever one makes of this parable, it is worth reflecting on the image of God that we hold. Our image of God is mediated through parents, teachers and ministers. In many ways, they shape our picture of God.

Our image of God is significant as it determines how we relate to God. But it also spills out into how we relate to others. These are caricatures, but if I understand and see God as a policeman like figure in the sky, I will spend my life trying to make sure I obey all the rules out of fear. If I see God as a stern old man with a long white beard who is watching everything I do from afar, I will see God as aloof and distant. Chances are, I will also transfer the way I relate to God onto how I relate with others. I might well want to police them and be stern and distant toward them.

Sometimes, when we interrogate our image of God, we notice that our operational image of God and our experience of God are out of sync. What does this mean? When asked to describe God, I might say that God is love and mercy and compassion. That’s the right answer, that is what I have been taught, I truly believe this intellectually. However, I may notice that my experience of God is not one of love, mercy and compassion but rather fear and distance. Therefore, there is a gap between the operational and experiential.

What is your image of God? Do you notice a gap between your operational and experiential image of God? Sit with God today and ask God to show you who God really is.

Lord God,

I thank you for all those – parents, teachers, ministers – who have taught me and shaped my image of you. Help me to come to know, through the experience of my life, how you look upon and love ME as I am. Help me now to see you as you really are.


Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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