Goats or Sheep?
Posted by Jeff Fulmer on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 Under: Christianity
the sound of things in Matthew 25, Jesus is going to make a big
entrance when he returns to earth. With an entourage of angels, he will
take his place on a throne and all the nations will be gathered before
Him. Then, he’s going to get down to business and start separating
people like a shepherd – goats to the left, sheep to the right.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are
blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for
you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave
me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I
was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you
clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you
came to visit me.’
Like the good sheep they are, the righteous honestly admit they never saw Jesus in any of these dire circumstances.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of
the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then
Jesus lowers the boom and commands the cursed to depart from him.
goats on the left are sincerely baffled and balk at their sentence.
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help
The fact that they call Jesus “Lord” implies they know
him or, at least, think they do. Some of the goats may be church-goers
who teach Sunday school and sing in the choir. They may be prominent
“Christians” who are asked to pray at luncheons and sought after by
Jesus repeats his message, this time in the negative. 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
parable doesn’t seem to be a head-scratcher, although it is a little
unusual. Unlike most parables, Jesus interjects himself directly into
the story. And rather than an allegory with a hidden meaning, this
one sounds a lot like an actual future event coupled with a strong,
Since I don’t spend as much time as I should
with the groups Jesus identifies as important to him, I admit that
Matthew 25 is a little disconcerting to me. At the same time, I don’t
think Jesus wants me to systematically go down a checklist of hospitals
and prisons to visit in an effort to secure eternal salvation. Jesus
is conveying a frame of mind and a condition of the heart that his
true followers will have by nature of their state of grace.
a heart for “the least of these” can be manifested in different ways.
It might be sharing the scriptures with someone who is spiritually
starving or introducing a thirsty soul to Christ. It may be simply
taking the time to reach out to society’s outcast or working to free
the person who is imprisoned by his own vices and addictions.
course, caring for “least of these” has to be taken literally too.
This would involve physically meeting people where they are – on the
streets, in the homeless shelters, hospitals, and prisons. Several
years ago, I participated in a prison ministry and I’ve never
encountered a group of men in more desperate need of the forgiveness and
hope found in the Word of God.
Finally, we can also participate
in helping the “least of these” on a societal level. Having a heart
for “the least of these” will include how we choose to allocate our
resources as a country. I want a strong, efficient government, but I
also want one that is caring and compassionate. After all, how a
nation treats its most vulnerable members is a measure of its true
Can we visit family member in the hospital and not
care if another sick person can even afford to see a doctor? Can we
give a homeless person a dollar and not support public assistance to
keep a shelter open? Can we preach to prisoners and not support
programs that keep young men off the streets and out of trouble? These
are just a sampling of the challenges we face as a community and, while
there aren’t any easy answers, I personally don’t want to vote like a
Jesus will gather the nations before him, but he will judge
each of us individually on how we treated Him and his brothers and
sisters. Likewise, each person must interpret this parable for
themselves and how they should act on it. There are many different
possible ways to respond but, as Christians, it’s a question we all
need to answer – because there will be a test at the end.