Bear with me, if you will, as we look at today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “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.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “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.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
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 you?’
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.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I don’t know much about 1st century AD Palestine, but I assume that shepherds may have dealt with sheep and goats on an everyday basis. Both animals look very similar, and would probably graze together, but would often have to be separated when it came time to shear the sheep or milk the goats, or something. Jesus’ audience would have been very attuned to this, since many of his male followers probably had first-hand experience as shepherds.
Sheep and goats: very similar on the outside, but completely different animals upon closer examination. Sheep are very docile and peaceful; goats, on the other hand, are pretty much crazy, will eat anything, and can be pretty aggressive, especially when you are at the Fort Wilderness (Disney World) petting zoo, and you have a book of tickets for the rides in the Magic Kingdom in your pocket…but I digress.
Jesus’ parable hits home. To me, He is explaining that though many will claim to serve Him, very few will show actions that match their words. What is also interesting is that both the sheep and the goats don’t even realize that they are sheep or goats (verses 37-39, & 44). The sheep are so full of the Spirit that they serve while giving no thought to their eternal reward, while the goats are completely oblivious to the suffering around them, because, you know, they have a “personal relationship with their Savior,” so they’re just gonna enjoy their blessings and then chill with the Lord in Heaven because they have faith.
I don’t think that there is, nor could there be, a stronger call to the Church to be the hands and feet of Christ, to go to the broken, to provide for our neighbors in need, or to serve Jesus by serving others. Jesus’ words are very clear, and his point is sharp: if/when you do for the least of my children, you do it for me. This is sobering…I don’t know about you, but I haven’t set foot in a prison to minister or offer companionship in, like…ever. I haven’t served in a soup kitchen or volunteered at a nursing home in years. Shoot, I can’t even be bothered to go to my kids’ campuses and help teachers grade papers or help at PE.
And yet, it’s not too late. What are our gifts, and how can we use them to bring the Kingdom here to Earth for the least of these? That is the question I sign off with tonight. How can we, as God’s people, get off the bench and get in the game?