Matthew 25:31–46 (NRSV)
The Judgment of the Nations
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
What is our role, what is our purpose? I think most of us have thought about those questions at least once in our journey through life. Many of us have thought about those question this week. We get frustrated for a moment and in that frustration we begin to question everything that we have thought we have known. Should I have taken that position, should I have retired, should I have become a parent, should I forget about faith, should I quit school…The questions continue to rise, but why do we question ourselves so much?
The answer goes all the way back to the garden. Our first parents were tempted by knowledge. They were tempted with the knowledge of good and evil. When they decided to bite into that temptation they sent humanity into a spiral of questioning if the knowledge we are acting on is good or evil. From that moment on there was a choice, there was an option to choose evil or good. Prior to that moment our first parents only acted in a mutually beneficial way, after that moment each person began to act out of selfishness. Does that mean we can no longer do good? Not at all, it simply means we struggle. We struggle with self-preservation or community building, we struggle with over extending ourselves in the community or isolating ourselves from others.
Prior to the fall there was balance. Mankind tended the garden and the garden provided all that was needed. But the balance was tipped and suddenly pain and toil entered into human life. Since that moment people have rejected the idea of God because evil exists in the world, but evil exists only because humanity allows their own selfish ambitions and desires to overpower them. We make choices that affect us personally and also that have a deeper more lasting impact. We make a choice, but how does that choice affect the people around us or the people that buy our products, working in our facilities, or those that have yet been born?
This is the question and the judgment that Jesus speaks of in this passage. He speaks of the day of glory when all nations are gathered before Him. He will separate them from one another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. This one statement is very interesting. A sheep and a goat are similar in many ways, biologically, but are also very different. Sheep were one of the first domesticated animals, they have been cared for and bred by humanity for so long that the animal will struggle to survive without assistance. A sheep requires the herd and a shepherd, but a goat is different. A goat is course, stubborn, and independent. A goat will look out for itself.
Jesus says that he will separate the people of the nations like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are the ones that follow their shepherd. They listen to His voice, they follow His leading, they entrust their very existence into His hands. This is why Jesus came to dwell among mankind, from the time of the fall mankind has strived to do the best that they could, but they had these constant questions tipping the balance. What is good, what is evil, what is our purpose? Jesus came to teach and show us how to live as humanity was intended. He lived the perfectly human life, he showed us how to live, and through and with Him we too can live the life God intended.
Jesus was born into a family, a family that was not perfect but was perfected by love. They took on the ridicule of the community as Mary and Joseph raised a son that everyone else called a bastard. They loved him and treated him as their very own, because they loved Him. Do you think this was easy? They did this because they had faith, hope, and love. They raised Jesus, made Him part of the family, so much so that when Jesus was an adult the towns’ people knew him as the carpenter’s son. Jesus grew in strength and wisdom, He began to teach and act. His actions began to draw attention from others because he acted toward the least of community. The least, the rejected, the meanest, the lowest, the ones with very little standing. He came to the ones that did not have the privilege to stand alone.
Jesus came for the sheep, but there are goats in the herd as well. The goats as I mentioned before are stubborn animals, they have an independent streak in them that makes them think that they know what is best for themselves. There is a reason the sheep need to be separated from the goats, because the goats can cause harm. I have had the privilege of caring for a goat. As far as goats go, our goat was a good goat, but it was still a goat. We had to make sure she stayed in the pen because if we allowed her to wonder she would eat something that would cause her harm. We also had to watch her closely because if you were trying to make her do something she did not want to do she would ram you if you gave her the chance. Even when the things I was doing was for her own good this goat would act as if I were trying to kill her. That is the difference between a goat and a sheep, the goat does not listen but acts according to their own desires at that moment.
Jesus speaks of the sheep and the goats, he separates the sheep from the goats sending one to the right the other to the left. One walks to share in the glory of the Son, while the other is sent to experience the fires of rejection. What exactly is the difference between the sheep and the goats of humanity? A couple of weeks ago I said that the main purpose of the church is to serve, when I spoke those words there was some resistance to them and a statement was then made that our number one purpose is to worship. But I want us all to understand that both are right and both are the same. Jesus came to show us how to be human, he showed us that there is a holy rhythm to life: the meeting for worship, prayer, and service. This rhythm is what brings balance to our lives, and to be a true disciple of Christ we cannot separate these three things from one another because if we do so we would then tip the scales once again. There is a problem though, to truly make this rhythm our own we first have to let go of ourselves and entrust every aspect of our being to Christ, who is the only one that can truly keep the scales in balance. The moment we take one of these things in our own hands we run the risk of toppling like a jenga tower. But when we entrust our lives into the hands of Christ, when we make his life our life and allow Him to guide our steps, we begin to change.
The change is subtle at first, but eventually if we continue to seek and follow Christ our identity glows with His spirit instead of our own. As we worship and pray we are drawn to become a blessing to the least. This is the holy rhythm, this is what faith, hope and love does when it is lived out. This is what the garden was like and what the kingdom is. But why do we not see it? Why after 2000 years of church history are we still faced with the horrors of war, dehumanizing poverty, and the exploitation of mankind and all of creation? We still have a lot of goats in the herd that like to push and ram around the sheep.
A goat is a person that may say all the right things, but there actions do not reflect the words that they speak. A goat is a person that is more concerned with their agenda or their reputation than that of the community in which they work and live. A goat is someone that demands respect but does very little to gain the respect they desire. There are goats in all aspects of life, they are republican and democrat, Baptist or Catholic, and yes there are many goats among Friends. A goat will look at the problem in a community and be unmoved or are unwilling to get involved personally. A goat relies on their own strength and power and rejects the possibility that God may provide for something far greater. At times I am nothing more than a goat, I am hard headed and stubborn, and often I am also on the receiving end of a goat’s charge.
I say these things to let us all realize that most of us can exhibit goat like qualities. It is part of our culture, we are the offspring of people that had to work hard to get where they ended up in life. We are proud of our heritage, but that does not make it Godly. Jesus looks to the sheep and says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” They responded to Jesus with a question, “When did we do this?” They did not realize that they had done these things because it was their nature, it had become their rhythm. They were just listening and following their shepherd so closely that they did not realize that they were doing great things and they never would have known because they were not doing them for the recognition. Their desire and their joy came from the relationships that they had with God and those around them. They found their place and their identity with the herd and the shepherd.
They found their place and their identity with the herd and the shepherd. They found their joy and their purpose living the holy rhythm of life with Christ. Making it their custom to join together in worship, withdrawing to the isolated places to pray, and going out to serve wherever they were led. Their purpose in life was to Love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with others. If I can teach only one thing to this Meeting this is it. I do not care if this meeting house is filled to capacity or if we have ministries that make headlines, but my one desire is that everyone knows this holy rhythm that Jesus lived. That every one of us would simplify our lives in such a way that this lifestyle would take form in all that we do, and so that if anyone was to have a conversation with any one of us that they would witness this type of lifestyle not only on a Sunday morning but every time they would see us.
Jesus looks out at the people of the nations, and he begins to separate us to the right or left, sheep or goat. That is what is important. It does not matter if our theology is right on that day, what matters is if our theology produced in us a lifestyle and life that reflects Christ in everything that we do. Call me simple, call me un-academic, call me whatever you want, all that matters is that as each of us walk this journey of life we reflect Christ giving hope to the hopeless, and shining light into the darkness right here and now.
The questions still remain, and as we learn more even more questions emerge. Are we sheep or goats? Are we good or evil? Are we light bearers or foolish bridesmaids? Are we wise servants investing our lives in areas that would overjoy our master or lazy? Every one of those questions revolve around one central theme, who is Jesus? How we answer that question and how we let that answer saturate our every aspect of our lives determines how we will react when the time comes to invest our talents, or illuminate the path of the bridegroom, or if we enter heaven or hell. As we enter into a time of open worship and holy expectancy let us examine our lives and let the Spirit of God soak into the crevasse that maybe we have stubbornly rammed Him out of. Let us soak in the spirit and listen to his directions so that when we leave this meeting for worship we will enter into His service and bring life to our dying world.