December 16, 2017

Discussing the Sheep and the Goats

Giotto, Last Judgment, Scrovegni Chapel

It is time for us to consider another parable and teach one another as we study and meditate on its meaning.

This week’s Gospel text from Matthew contains one of Jesus’ most familiar parables: The Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46). I’m sure most of you have heard this parable many times, and perhaps have studied it, discussed it, taught it, or preached it in church or a Bible study.

I, for one, am convinced that our common understanding of this parable is mistaken. I have become convinced by another view that a number of Bible scholars hold, but which some of you may not have considered before.

But I don’t want to discuss my view today, at least not at this point. I’d like to hear you tell about what you hear when you listen to Jesus speak these words.

In Matthew’s Gospel, these are crucial words, for they are presented as his last parable before the account of his Passion. The story of the sheep and the goats is Jesus’ final official teaching before he embarks on the final leg of his journey to the Cross.

Here’s the text, from the NRSV:

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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And 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.” 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.” 44Then 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?” 45Then 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.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Have at it. Let’s teach one another.

Comments

  1. CM:

    I don’t know what you’re going to say, but the vocabulary and OT/Jewish viewpoint of Matthew makes me think this passage is rooted in Joel 3:1-3 (4:1-3 Hebrew text) and is a judgment against the nations (goyim/ethnoi) for how they treated Jesus’ brethren – i.e., either the Jews or Christians/Christian missionaries. It is not a judgment that Christian believers will face.

  2. Correction: ethnê

  3. As for EricW’s comment, if it isn’t too much of a digression, would someone explain how God judges nations? I’ve never understood this – is ‘nation’ synonomous with ‘government’? Are nations defined merely by political boundaries? Since this judgement occurs at the end of time, would it include ‘nations’ that have already gone out of existence? I understand how, in the OT, God used the Hebrews to ‘judge’ the nations that were then inhabiting the Promised Land. But I don’t get how God, at the end of time, will sit in judgment of a nation.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …if it isn’t too much of a digression, would someone explain how God judges nations?

      As I used to hear preached from Christian Radio in the Seventies, usually by causing that nation to lose a war and be crushed by an enemy nation. The Babylonian Captivity and Diaspora of AD 70 being the usual examples.

      “God’s Judgment for America’s Sins sits Ready and Waiting in the Missile Silos of the Soviet Union!!!!!”
      — typical hyperbole of such Seventies radio preaching

      • typical hyperbole of such Seventies radio preaching

        I don’t think that kind of preaching stopped in the ’70’s

    • I take “nations” as another way of saying “peoples.”

    • Is “nation” synonymous with “government”?

      No, but it has come to mean something like that. Chaplain Mike is correct that “nations” can mean “peoples” as in “people groups” or “ethnic groups” or “tribes” (see EricW’s comment about goyim (Hebrew) and ethne (Greek). In the Great Commission, panta ta ethne of Matthew 28:19 is translated “all the nations”, as in “Go and make disciples of…”

      I think the modern understanding of “nations” meaning “countries” is from “nation-states” getting established in Europe from collections of regions, principalities, cities, etc, having similar language and culture and coalescing into countries with common government and defined boundaries, notably Germany and Italy in the 19th century.

      When talking about missions, the term “people group” is often used, as these often cross borders or are contained within a country’s borders. Examples: The Jewish nation (or nation of Israel) can be found in nearly every country in the world, transcending borders, while the “Jewish state” is modern Israel, contained by borders and with its own government, not that of other host countries. The Quechua (Quichua) Indians in South America are a nation that crosses many borders in countries along the Andes mountains. And the Hopi tribe in Arizona is inside of the Navajo reservation that is inside of a larger country, the USA.

  4. I just wrote about this parable here: http://bit.ly/sHEuJP

    The key to proper understanding of this parable is found Matthew 10. The parable of the judgment of the nations builds on the context of Matthew 10. We find much of the same language in Matthew 25:31-46 that we find in Matthew 10: the use of the diminutive (“little ones,” “least of these”) to refer to Jesus’ disciples – the need for the disciples to receive food, drink and shelter from those to whom they are sent – God’s verdict on the day of judgment riding on how the disciples are received – and the hidden truth that how one treats Jesus’ disciples is how one treats Jesus himself. Matthew 25:31-46 envisions a time in which the disciples’ mission to the lost sheep of Israel has been extended to all the nations of the world. The people of the world will be responsible for their response to the church and its message. Those who welcome the church and its message have actually welcomed Jesus himself. Those who reject the church and its message have rejected Jesus, and with him, the grace of God that brings salvation.

    Jesus, then, is not saying, “People of the world, your religion doesn’t matter. What matters is how you treat the needy.” Neither is he saying to the church, “Your primary job is to be kind to those in need.” Rather, Matthew intends this parable to be an encouragement to a grace-filled and vulnerable church that humbly carries Jesus’ message of the kingdom into a sometimes hostile world. God will hold the world accountable for how it receives those whom Jesus sends in his name.

    Still, where Christians have gone from a being a poor and powerless minority to a powerful presence in the community, we need to guard against using this parable in a way Jesus did not intend. Christians today might ask themselves if they could ever be mistaken for “the least of these my brethren.”

    • +1

    • I would be very cautious in this interpretation, to make sure not to take anything away from what many call the “social gospel”, as when you look at Jesus ministry, he never distinguished the needy he helped, he did not only help “the chosen”, he helped anyone who the Spirit told him to help, and so should we.

      • Actually, didn’t he give a non-Jewish woman a hard time about helping her? She had to make a comment about dogs getting the crumbs that fall from the table?

        • He also spit in mud and smeared it a Jewish guy’s face, these aren’t examples of Jesus giving people a hard time, he is rather testing their faith. Jesus knew the woman’s great faith and knew how she would respond, he was using it as an opportunity to teach the pharisees a lesson.

    • Read your whole post. Really excellent thoughts, Mitchell.

  5. just a quick search of meanings in this parable presents a few alternate explanations, or rather emphases that should be ranked then by accuracy???

    is there a wrong way to understand this parable? do different meanings for different people indicate possible misunderstanding & misappropriation???

    did Jesus keep His parables so cryptic as to require some form of esoteric insight to properly understand them?

    should there be something basic in the framing of the story that is not dependent on the setting or some details? so there could be an issue with being distracted by minor elements while ignoring the obvious???

    if the original message was given to people with no formal theological training, is there something of deeper significance embedded in the parable?

    are there commands nestled within either specific or implied? is this simply an explanation of how things will end up without any response expected by those listening? in other words, there is no possible way to decide which animal group you want to belong to? you are either going to be a sheep or goat by a standard only Jesus can discern???

    hmmm…

    • was this parable directed to all peoples of all time as a warning???

      or an end-times description of a post-rapture reckoning???

      or Jesus’ disciples as an encouragment???

  6. So Jesus is therefore instructing secular Canadians to provide health care to uninsured American Christians or burn in hell for eternity?

    • I’m sorry, but all I can think of here, is Cake and their song “Sheep Go to Heaven (Goats, go to hell).”

  7. One of my favorite sermons I heard preached on this subject was when we had a guest speaker who was interviewing for our pastoral position (he didn’t get the job, but I enjoyed his words).

    He talked about how each of us is at times a sheep- one who feeds, cares, visits, etc. But at other times, we are goats- the ones who deny food, clothing, or visitation, when we had the chance to offer something. It is simply the division in our nature (the angel and the devil) that we are neither the sheep nor the goat, but a combination of the two- he called us “Geeps”. I confess I laughed really hard, but I also agreed with his assessment. When I look at my own life and deeds- sometimes I am the sheep. Sometimes I am the goat.

    The “geep” was this person’s way of saying that we were still dependent on God’s grace, no matter how much we want to believe that it is our good deeds that will earn us our salvation. Honestly, I thank God that this is not the case. For we would all be lost.

  8. I don’t think one should take Procrustean measures to try to make GMatthew or James neatly fit a faith-alone-in-Christ-alone soteriology. While Gnosticism may clearly fall outside of Christian orthodoxy, I think the NT exhibits and can rightly engender a diversity of beliefs which are not always compatible with each other.

    • Believing in justification through faith doesn’t mean we aren’t judged by works. Clearly Christ does that. Notice the sheep and the goats aren’t divided according to their works, but their kind. The sheep had a place prepared from before tiem. The faithful are already sheep, before they are judged, and they are only judged according to their good works, fruits of faith. The good works are good because they were for Christ. Christ sees no bad works in his sheep.

      The unfaithful are damned for their lack of good works, no faith or dead faith. Christ sees no good works to praise in them.

      • BOC bomb:

        “In these and all similar passages where works are praised in the Scriptures, it is necessary to understand not only outward works, but also the faith of the heart. . . . When eternal life is granted to works, it is granted to those who have been justified. Only justified people, who are led by the Spirit of Christ, can do good works. Without faith and Christ as Mediator, good works do not please God. . . . ‘You gave me food’ is cited as the fruit and evidence of the righteousness of the heart and of faith. . . . In this way Scripture lumps together the righteousness of the heart and its fruit.”

      • I think this is reading Christian or Calvinist theology into a Jewish eschatological apocalyptic parable.

        • Aidan Clevinger says:

          Eric, your interpretation only works if you assume that Jesus wasn’t fully aware of the fact that He was ushering in the Church and didn’t guide the later works of the New Testament. I think Boaz raises a legitimate point. Especially consider these two facts:

          1. The sheep are “blessed”, which implies that they’ve been given a gift. A blessing is always something that is given out of grace and mercy. So the works of the sheep don’t get them in – in fact, they weren’t even aware that they’d done anything. But with God’s grace they had – and for this Christ recognizes them.

          2. The goats are able to offer up a whole host of works they’d done (or thought they did). But their works weren’t done with a right spirit (that is, as the result of faith and love) and therefore weren’t worth anything.

          My pastor pointed that out to us last Sunday and I found it very insightful.

        • Another point: the sheep’s questioning can be seen as repentence. They are repenting; they know their lack of worthiness and question when they did these works for which they are praised.

          The goats are asserting their own goodness. They challenge Christ when accused: when did we NOT feed you, when did we NOT visit you, etc.

          Also, Calvinists miss the point that the eternal fire was NOT prepared for the goats. That is their punishment, but its for their lack of good works, lack of repentence. No pre-ordained damnation.

        • Also, I don’t get your comment about Christian theology. Christ’s teachings are Christian theology. Why on earth would you not read Christ’s other teachings into Christ’s teaching here?

  9. Margaret Catherine says:

    I would locate it as a restatement of Isaiah 58 (below); a commandment to Israel given new depth in Christ our brother. “I am the LORD,” the drumbeat reason behind the commandments of the Law, becomes the far more personal “You did it to Me”.

    “Do you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the LORD?
    This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
    releasing those bound unjustly,
    untying the thongs of the yoke;
    Setting free the oppressed,
    breaking every yoke;
    Sharing your bread with the hungry,
    sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
    Clothing the naked when you see them,
    and not turning your back on your own.
    Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your wound shall quickly be healed;
    Your vindication shall go before you,
    and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”

  10. I wonder if there is a way to look at this reading using the symmetry of Matthew’s gospel and the symmetery of the lectionary for ordinary time. Back on the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time–the beginning of Jesus public ministry he, “Went around all of Galillee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and illness among them.” (Matt 4: 23) In Chapter 25, the end of his public ministry, a similar theme is struck–curing diseases, visiting the sick, etc.

    The mission and conclusion of Jesus public ministry was preaching the good news, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, etc.. We are judged by whether, through the power of the Spirit the reading from week 2 of Ordinary time, we live the mission of Christ. The goal of the Christian life is to take on Christ, to share in his mission, cross and resurrection. By feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisioned and sick we share in the mission and love of Christ. Service to the poor are the bookends of Christ’s public ministry.

    • Which is why the actions mentioned in the parable (visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding and clothing those in need, etc.) are called the Corporal works of Mercy by the Catholic Church.

      Clearly, not all humans will do all of these, but part of loving Christ is loving His other children. And in those days, there were no hospitals or social service agencies to take care of these most basic needs. No one can hear the Good News when they are cold and hungry….only when they are warm and fed can our words about this Jesus of Ours and His love for them register.

  11. Chaplain Mike says, “I, for one, am convinced that our common understanding of this parable is mistaken.”

    Mike, does the common understanding have something to do with “prepared for you from the foundation of the world” in verse 34? That is, a Calvinist understanding (o thou who hast embraced Luther)? 🙂

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      I don’t know what the good Chaplain’s interpretation is, but are you referring to the Luther who wrote “Bondage of the Will”? 😉 I ‘m pretty sure he’d agree with you about the whole “prepared from the foundation of the world” thing.

      • All lutherans agree with that. Calvinists want Christ to also say that he prepared the eternal fires from the foundation of the world for the goats, but that’s obviously not part of the story, is it?

  12. This is a call to engagement with the world . Spread the Grace. There is no other way to live in Christ .

  13. He will gather all the nations because Jesus suffered and died on the cross so that all may be saved.
    How will Jesus recognize those who said yes to Him, and received His merits, because the reflection of Jesus will be clearly seen in these. God knocks on the heart and soul of every person, throughout the nations of earth. Once a person opens their selves to receive Him, to live continually with open arms before His presence and Lordship, say yes moment by moment to Grace(the sharing of His own nature which does the willing and enabling) , they then receive Him within themselves more and more. As such, the person is transformed from glory to glory into the image of Jesus – who Is God – who is Love. As we respond to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit to be Love in this world, and say yes, we place ourselves in a position of openness and receptivity to the Grace of His presence – to His sharing a bit of His Nature instilling it within our receptive hearts and souls, transforming our very nature. This enables us to do the works of Love, to be Love. The more we say yes and receive the more we are surrendering ourselves to Him, thus the more He possesses us and is able to Love through us.

    We become love and do loving deeds because it His He who is loving through us. It is no longer we ourselves but Christ who dwells in us. It is not our actions or good works that merit us anything, It Is God living more and more through us who Glorifies His own works by the increase of Grace. God abides with us more and more because He possesses us more and more as we surrender to His Presence in us. As such we become more and more filled with Grace – He abides more and more within us because it is more and more He who lives and less our old nature.

    This is what I see In Jesus recognizing the sheep, because God sees the very image of Jesus in the sheep. God sees that very Image of Himself perfected in the sheep.

    Jesus also died for the goats and won redemption for them. But they chose not to say yes or at some point stopped saying yes. Thus they were closed, not receptive to the Presence of Grace for the transformation willed by God. So the image of Jesus is not seen in these, God does not recognize His Son in them, He doesn’t “know” them (there is no intimate union – God was not welcome to abide with them).

    • Daisey, you hit the nail on the head! I’n my humble opinion Christ is saying to the goats “I don’t know you”.
      It’s our relationship to Christ by the power of the Spirit that compels us to feed, clothe, visit…ect. The love becomes part of who we are as His children, hence the “Lord, when did we do these thing”. They were just normal acts of a Spirit filled life. Thanks Daisey!

  14. I don’t know. Sadly, I find myself a lot more goatish these days, and that is disturbs me a great deal.

  15. Atheist Gladiator says:

    Sheep are obedient and conformist, just like religions like their followers to be–before they’re fleeced and turned into mutton by the “good shepherd.” Goats have a fighting chance of escaping. That’s why Satan is drawn with goat horns. But really, one is just as smelly as the other.

    • ……what you can’t understand is that following Jesus Christ is not a religion, it is lifestyle.

      • Atheist Gladiator says:

        Like the Grateful Dead? Oh joy, that changes everything–sign me up today! Just let me know what nonsense to believe and how much to put in the collection plate.

    • Probably reading too much into it to say that the characters of sheep and goats are the main focus of the parable. Besides, why choose those particular characteristics? Another difference between sheep and goats is that sheep take a run up to charge you, while goats rear up on the spot – but I don’t think we can derive startling insights into the nature of Christianity from this.

      Pattie, I’ve never understood the claim made by many Christians that Christianity is not a religion. Yes, it’s a way of life too – but so are many other religions, notably Islam. ‘Religion’ is not a classification we can – or should – try to avoid.

      • We’ll have to agree to disagree on this point. It all has to do with definitions. A “regilion”, in my understanding, is a set of precepts and rules that one tucks into their life and trots out when obligated to. It is an attempt to understand and quantify the universe, and to explain the unexplainable.

        Contrawise, Christianity, when it is real and lived, is a relationship of love with a Person. No other set of beliefs share our connection to the Great Maker of the Universe coming to live amongst us to show us how to be human. If a belief is nicely wrapped up and put into a cubby-hole, and brought out on the sabbeth and as ordered…it IS a religion. Christianity is the over-arching theme of our lives, the Alpha and the Omega of our time here on this planet, and is an ever-evolving love story.

        JMHO….but this IS what I meant.

        • Jack Heron says:

          I do see where you’re going, and I agree with both your points about the nature of Christianity, but I’m not sure whether we can claim this with exclusivity. I myself find Christianity so much more than a set of precepts, rules and opinions as you do – but then I know Muslims and Hindus who celebrate the relationship of love they have with God as well and refuse to cubby-hole their beliefs. I could say ‘Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s the truth and a relationship with the Triune God’, but then they could say ‘Islam isn’t a religion, it’s the truth and a relationship with Allah the Most Loving’. We know that if they said Christianity was a ‘mere religion’, they would be missing so much: but what are we missing if we claim the converse?

    • Pretty good analysis. Sheep are stubborn and stupid, but they do follow their shepherd. Goats do not stay together and are much more difficult to herd. They do not want to follow a shepherd. They want to go their own way. The goats choose to go their own way and the shepherd lets them, but they are judged according to their success in going their own way. They all fail.

      • Aargh! Goats are FAR easier to deal with. Sheep panic and refuse to do what’s good for them, while goats can be reasoned with. The Bible is not complimenting us by comparing us with sheep.

        (I realize that this observation doesn’t forward the discussion, but having raised both sheep and goats, I wanted to defend the latter against their detractors. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m going to hell . . .)

        • Our male goat would stick his nose in the urine streams of the female goats when they were peeing. Disgusting! But not long afterwards we had several baby goats, all born during a severe winter snow (unusual for Texas). I bought heat lamps to make sure the babies lived, and they did. And then proceeded to devour every blade of grass in the 1/4 acre of lawn we gave them. 🙂

          Goat: It’s what’s for dinner.

        • My experience is you can’t herd goats as easily as you can sheep, at least with a dog. And goats have far more personality and independence than sheep. Sheep are very stubborn, though I’ve never had one climb in my car or try to trample my kids.

  16. It’s important to look at the 2 parables b4 this parable. This is the 3rd parable in a row where Jesus is talking a group doing NOTHING – Wasting what has been given them, not Loving, not being fruitful.

    parable of the bridesmaids:
    wasted their resources, fell asleep – result: they missed their groom

    Parable of the servants w/ talents:
    hoarded his talents, literally buried his talents – result: Bad things, man!

    Parable of the sheep & goats:
    Goats did not love the hurting, hungry, & needy – result: They will be judged!

    to me, these parable call us not to waste the greatest gift that God has given us.
    We have be forgiven so we must forgive, We have been loved so we must love!
    peace.

  17. I really see Jesus’ words being directed to nations AND individuals.

    Jesus called nations to repent, and commisioned his follow make disciples of all nations, but also call INDIVIDUALS to follow him. This not a case, for me, of either or, but both.

    I think that those who think that Jesus’ words are not to all of us as a member of a nation, and as people who run around calling Jesus Lord do not apply are copping out and or being extremly dishonest.

  18. Sheep say “Baaa”…goats say “Humbug”….

    The prededing sentence is not exegesis in any form or fashion. I thought this thread needed a little levity.

  19. I have always read the parable as an admonition to be certain that you are helping the needy. Such an attitude toward good works is an essential part of the Christian character, the parable seems to teach. I laughed at Crfields recollection of the “geeps” because I have found myself in that position many times as I have read the parable.

    Overall, I found the comments by Mitchell to be very compelling. The parable is about the response of the people all over the world to the Christian message. The phrase in verse 40 ” . . . one of the least of these who are members of my family” gives weight to his view, as I see it. The connection to Matthew 10, and the Kingdom theme of Matthew’s gospel also resonated with me. Thank you both for your input.

  20. Not really a commentary on the parable, but two semi-amusing stories.

    While I was teaching, I was sitting with a friend writing our end of semester reports. She was writing about a girl in her class who was fine when her friend were not nearby, but disruptive whenever she joined them. I jokingly suggested that my friend write that this students should be “less of a sheep and more of a goat,” and watched in shock and a slight amount of horror as she (my friend) typed it into her report. I then had to stop her and explain the context of such a comment and that it just might be taken very badly by the student’s parents.

    This school was in a rather rural area of Ohio, quite near the West Virginian border. Most of the businesses in town and in the other nearby communities were open for limited hours on Sundays. Coming from a city, I was used to signs announcing closure of a business due to a holiday. Given that I hadn’t seen any of these, I went shopping around 1pm on Easter Sunday. The Subway restaurant was closed. Both hardware stores were closed (I was looking for a new space heater). The Cabela’s that I drove to in frustration to get a water bottle in the determination to get at least one errand run that day was closed. On Easter Sunday, I was hungry and they did not feed me, I was cold and they gave me no way to warm myself, I was thirsty and they gave me no water (well, water bottle). There was a bookstore next to the Cabela’s and it was open. And that is how Richard Dawkins books get purchased on Easter Sunday.

    The only thing I will note about the passage is that is, as far as I am aware, the one place where Jesus explicitly says who will end up in hell.

    • Yes, but “It was Easter Sunday and you made me come to work or lose my job” is another way to look at it.

  21. I don’t know if this explicates the parable any, but seeing as how we’ve just had Hallowe’en and if you read the story all the way down to the end (the very, very end), you’ll see the connection; a link to an online tale (and those of us who are H.P. Lovecraft fans should get all the references)

    🙂

  22. The retribution portion of the sheep and goats parable has all the flavor of the perspective of children who have been tormented and bullied by the neighboring children and now the very strong, powerful, and (hopefully wise) father comes to the rescue of his tormented children. The tormented children now hope for, and perhaps even ask, their father to strike down the children who have endlessly and dangerously bullied them.

    In this light, I agree with the comment that the parable is best viewed as a “Jewish eschatological apocalyptic parable” inspired by the persecution of the early Christians by “nations.” I do not think this portion of the parable was a teaching of Jesus, although charitable acts to the poor certainly were.

    Further, are we really to think that a loving and just God’s wrath is to fall even on caring individuals who are part of a uncaring nation or government?

  23. Niels Bloedrich says:

    I hope my commentary is welcome, even if I’m not a regular reader of this blog, or anything.

    This passage can be explained by many other passages. For example, the talents’ parable, or the explanation that the day of judgement will come like the owner in the middle of the night that expexts to find the people working. They don’t have to just restrain from doing bad things, in staid they have to love their neighbors day and night.

    And this is a central point. Most people abhor everything that’s somewhat related to works because of the “salvation by works”. But a good christian will perform good actions by his own nature, while the others “loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil”.
    It also appears in the sermon on the mount: the good christian is the one “who does the will of my Father” and to the others he will say “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers”. Evil doers.

    To sum up, Christianity is about doing things (not merely speaking about them).

    Another huge thing is the mentioning of “the King”. It’s not common for Jesus to speak of himself as the King, and I’m not knowledgeable enough to explain much about it.

    – Niels Bloedrich

    • Thanks for the insight! Stick around, this is a great place to be.

      And I agree with you, insofar as claiming to love God and be loved by Him without responding to the needs of His OTHER kids here on earth is like proclaiming one’s unending love and devotion to a new fiance(e), and then “proving” love by allowing oneself to be served by him or her without thanks or reciprocal signs of caring.

  24. When will Chaplain Mike give us his take on the parable?

  25. What, no mention of the social gospel? Or is “feed the hungry,” etc. not meant to be taken literally?

  26. I really don’t think this is a parable. It appears to be a description of future events. I think we can reach some wrong conclusions if we view this as a parable.

    • Furthermore, the barcodes contain secret pro-goat messages.

      I think Armageddon will begin in (wait for it)…Kashmir!

      (Get it? Cashmere? Oh, never mind.)

  27. To echo some comments above (but perhaps to take the thought in directions that those above might not agree with):

    Insofar as we take this to be about individuals (though the point would apply equally to nations),

    and insofar as the sheep and goats are being divided, as it certainly seems in the parable, by their works (though the point would hold equally well if by some strange twisting we read them as being divided by their faith, which is also something that comes in degrees and is both had & lacked in different ways by just about everybody),

    I, and I think everyone I’ve met (who had reached the age of responsibility), is both a sheep and goat. A very small adjustment to Solzhenitsyn seems almost undeniable here: The line dividing sheep from goats cuts through the heart of every human being.

  28. I am rather lazy when it comes to certain passages as of late.

    What I take away is that it is a very good idea to care for those in need.

    Maybe I’ll get some love on the least of these if I throw enough of it around.

  29. I think interpreting this parable to try and account for standard protestant theology really causes us to fall short of the mark. This passage has the potential to really re-condition the boilerplate justification talk we hear pretty much non-stop from some in evangelical protestantism.

    I think the passage is about people’s response to Jesus’ in terms of “presence,” not assent to a soteriological position or something.

    The faith that Jesus inspires is a faith in a human being, one that welcomes his presence. The Resurrection presence of Jesus is found among his people, thus where they are, he is also. The kind of expectation of Jesus’ coming that his people experience is one that actually launches the nature of “presence” far beyond a metaphorical or spiritual nature. It’s robustly incarnational- water, clothing, prison visitation. The ego of the Church becomes the ego of Christ, and those who respond with willing presence, (as Matthew did with “follow me”) are those who see the unfolding of the Kingdom reality in which the Church finds itself. Who see the fruit of humble trust in the cross-work of Jesus, and delighted celebration of his resurrection, and expectation of his return. This is what love for Jesus is all about. It’s the kind of love that gives a drink, or clothing, or visits people who have no one to visit them. If the Church is the presence of Jesus, then one’s (or a nation’s) response to the Church in terms of their presence in the “neighborhood” determines the course and shape of their faith. Much like Matthew’s faith was begun at the initial obedience to “follow me,” though incomplete at that point. Being with Jesus (or in this case, the Church), willingly and humbly, initiates the kind of faith to which God says “inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And vice versa. Rejection of the presence of the people among whom he walks is a rejection of him, and of the path that leads to the kind of faith the apostles had once they walked with him for three years, and saw the Kingdom of God among them.

    So I think Jesus is saying something about how everyday life, like food and clothing, are the playing field in which he chooses to dwell, and instruct us in our faith. This happens to make him accessible to the “least of these,” which would not be the case if the presence of Jesus, the life of faith, were to be mainly lived out in church leadership conferences or theological ivory towers.

    My take.

    • After posting this, I read through Mitchell’s (above commenter) post on the passage, and I’m right on board with it. Highly recommended.

      • Perhaps these quotes from Mithchell’s well defended thesis can help summarize his point for those who have not read it.

        “Let me get this out of the way at the beginning. Sacrificial kindness to the poor, the weak and the vulnerable is a virtue that Jesus raised to a new level in everything he said and did. Christians are to be generous to those in need. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors, as do the law and prophets of Israel.

        “That, however, is not the point of Jesus’ parable…

        “Matthew 25:31-46 envisions a time in which the disciples’ mission to the lost sheep of Israel has been extended to all the nations of the world [the whole of the human race] . The people of the world will be responsible for their response to the church [i.e. the body comprised ot the ‘least of theses my bretheren’] and its message. Those who welcome the church and its message have actually welcomed Jesus himself. Those who reject the church and its message have rejected Jesus, and with him, the grace of God that brings salvation.”

  30. My two cents… Matthew’s gospel is a little different than Mark and Luke. And like many other verses in this gospel, we see Jesus emphasizing that how we live and how all humans actually treat other people makes a difference in how all humans will be judged.

    Also, this verse is telling us that Jesus is not just the Jesus of Bible stories, he is in us and in our neighbors. We cannot have just faith in the Jesus of Bible stories. We must see Jesus and have some faith in God’s images here and now among us.