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Goats or Sheep?

From 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.

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.’

Like the good sheep they are, the righteous honestly admit they never saw Jesus in any of these dire circumstances.

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.’ Then Jesus lowers the boom and commands the cursed to depart from him.

The 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 you?’

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 community leaders.

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.’”

This 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, specific warning.

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.

Having 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.

Of 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 greatness.

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 goat.

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.

This article is also available at The Ooze.

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6 Responses to “Goats or Sheep?”

  1. Good job, Jeff! It’s amazing how even a smile can brighten someone’s day. Not everyone can do the “big” things, but a lot of those “little” things can add up.

  2. raymack2009 says:

    Bro, per normal, you have managed to wrote on paper some thoughts that I have often. I especially like, “I, personally don’t want to vote like a goat.” Thank you for your heart and lending your diverse view in times that are often very homogeneous within evangelical circles! Kudos!

  3. animaltalker says:

    well written, too many “Christians” these days are Pharisees but refuse to see that

    They refuse to show the Love of Christ to any who do not conform to their view of right living, forgetting that he died for ALL of us before we were even born, for any and all sins we commit. It is not for ant to judge another human being but only to spread the good news of our Lord’s Love and Salvation. Judgment is the Lord’s.

    Peace and the Lord’s blessing upon you

  4. […] Jesus goes so far as to tell his followers that when he returns, they will be separated as either sheep or goats based on how they care for “the least of these.” And the early church took this very seriously. […]

  5. Richard says:

    Wow!!! Just WOW!!! What you write is so impressive that I’ll continue to read what you’re writing. It’s hard to find TRUE CHRISTIANS these days, but I think I just found one! You’re rare. I found you on Twitter and glad I did. Keep up the good work!

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I grew up in Franklin Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, where I attended a charismatic church that sincerely tried to follow Christ's teachings and actively sought the gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the summer of 84, I interned in DC with the Reagan-Bush Re-Election campaign and was indoctrinated in the dark arts of neo-conservatism. After graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu, I worked in the financial services industry in Atlanta; then I drifted back to Southern California for a few introspective years before eventually moving home to Tennessee. Along the way, I began to question some of my longstanding beliefs and attempted to reconcile my political and religious views. Increasingly, I became saddened and angered with how Christianity was so often misrepresented for personal and political gain. Hometown Prophet was written out of that frustration.

- Jeff Fulmer