Sheep and Goats
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
In Matthew Chapter 25 we find the parable of “The Sheep and the Goats”. Jesus says that when the King comes in his glory, he will separate all the peoples of all nations. The first group are those who gave food to the hungry, a drink to the thirsty, who clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the imprisoned. The second group did none of those things, even though they did not seem to have malicious intent, their focus was skewed. While there is very little in common between the two groups and their actions, other than the fact that neither seemed to be aware of the consequences of their actions, with a little bit of introspection, we will likely find that we ourselves have things in common with both groups, and probably a lot more in common with the second group than we’d like.
In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus touches on something similar when he says “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” and so on and finishes up with things like “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” These words are directly related to Micah 6:8, which plants some of the seeds for this parable: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Looking back at the parable of the sheep and goats thru this sort of lens reveals even more about the heart of Christ and his desire for Christian behavior. Both the sheep and the goats encountered the exact same people, the very same groups. Both the sheep and the goats failed to recognize the presence of Christ in the “least of these”. The difference was the response of their hearts. For the sheep, the response, regardless of person or situation, was to lead with first with love and mercy, seeking to fill the needs of others . To the goats, it was to lead with self-centeredness, indifference, distance, coldness, maybe even callousness. Very likely, however, they probably felt compassion, yet still chose the easier path.
I know that there have been many times in my life, so many opportunities to stop for a moment and show love and compassion to someone. To take just a minute from my day and possibly change the course of someone’s day or, who knows, maybe even their life, but I didn't. I was likely in a hurry, too busy, too distracted. There was something more important than the least of these.
It is often in the focus on self, even absent-mindedly, that we lose some of our ability to show mercy and to walk with God. Looking inward blinds us to the lives, the stories, the needs, and the love of and for others. So often when we structure our lives this way, the concerns that are the first to be dropped from our purview are those of the Least. Especially in today's society when so many problems seem too massive to be overcome, where the scope and scale is often world-wide, something so small slips thru unnoticed so easily. However, this worldy view is the antithesis of God's view, as Jesus' words make clear, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
For the sheep, it wasn’t about doing any of these things because they were doing it for the Lord God Almighty Himself and they could possibly be rewarded, but it was because they did not know it was Him, and they did it anyway. It is in this selfless stance in which we align ourselves to Christ as well as God's will. It is so often in the expectation of the reward that we lose the reward itself. To paraphrase Charles Marshall, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching."
© 2019 Gregory Rector