Nov 15 = Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46)

Theme = Acceptance, grace, mercy, hospitality, social justice

Further Resources:

sheep and goats

The parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46) occurs at the end of Matthew’s fifth block in his Gospel. Jesus came to Jerusalem, predicted the fall of the city and temple by Rome, and warned the disciples to be awake for his coming. Interestingly enough this parable told them how to stay awake.

First, the parable began with Jesus’ coronation and sitting on the throne. His glory (Shekinah in Hebrew) and being surrounded by angels suggested that he is Yahweh on the throne. The presence of “nations” (gentiles in Greek) indicated that this was the presence of God and the restoration of Israel (Is 60:1-3). This is similar to our own scenes of heaven and the final judgment.

Second, Jesus as God separated sheep from goats, good from bad, and righteous from cursed. This final judgment story suggested that Jesus would be the judge of good and evil people. Many of us have heard throne room, judgment, or final days’ scenarios. In some stories the person stands judged or accused by God, only to be rescued by Jesus (the divine defense attorney). Jesus offers persuasive words that save “the sinner” and open the door for their salvation. Another scenario might suggest that one’s full life is displayed for all to see until the act of confessing Jesus appears on the film, indicating that their history is wiped clean by this confession and Jesus’ sacrifice. Still others suggest that one will make their case before the Master and use Jesus as a “get out of jail free card.” In all of these the judgment involves bargaining for one’s salvation.

According to Jesus’ parable—there is no bargaining. All that we have done is completed and our sentence is based on our actions because what we have done is known by God. Jesus already has our sentence decided. There is not arguing, negotiations, or replay. Their fate is chose before they stand in front of Jesus.

Third, there are only two judgment stories in the Bible (at least that refer to final judgment). The first is the Rich Man and Lazarus, the second is this one. In both those who are condemned are condemned not because of what they believe, but because they refuse to help the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable in society. While some might suggest that those condemned did not serve Jesus, the reality was that they believed and loved God, yet they neglected to love those around them who were suffering.

 

This is one of the more famous stories that Jesus tells. It is one that is familiar to many because it involves the judgement of God and those considered as “goats” who “get their just reward.” However, it also has a deeper application to disciples.

Fourth, those who are “righteous” are labeled as that. Righteous (along with the term justice) are social justice terms. To be just and right meant that one cared for the poor, vulnerable, orphans, widows, abused, victims, etc. In this parable the righteous were/are people who focus on social issues. It has little to do with legal or doctrinal issues. Matthew illustrated that righteousness as a unique characteristic in his Gospel. Joseph acted out of compassion for Mary because he was righteous (Matt 1:19). In the Sermon on the Mount showing mercy and compassion were signs of righteousness (Matt 5:6-10, 18-20). Showing love/mercy were also signs of maturity and the reflection of Torah and the Prophets (5:48; 7:12). For the Rich Young Man to be mature, he had to sell his possessions and give to the poor (19:21). Finally, the corrupt religious leaders had neglected the true Torah which involved justice, mercy, and faithfulness. For Matthew righteousness involved showing compassion for the poor, mercy, and love. In this parable, salvation came to those who showed compassion to the poor—thereby showing love to Jesus.

Finally, Jesus/God claimed that the marginalized people were “my relatives.” To mistreat people is to mistreat God. The goats were unrighteous because by neglecting their community they neglected their God.

What message does this offer us today? As a church that places tremendous emphasis on reaching those on the margins of life, we have a vested interest in this story. I don’t intend to suggest that we aren’t doing enough or that we point the finger at people who neglect the poor and claim they are “hell bound.” I don’t intend to suggest that we must give up everything and become poor.

First, this is why our mission is heavily focused on those who are vulnerable, poor, oppressed, abused, or humiliated in life. WE do this because our very salvation and our relationship in the Kingdom of God is dependent on our ministry. Our works today and how we treat people determines our salvation.

Second, I believe that so many of you have sacrificed much to help people. Our people try to act out of compassion, share with others in need, and help the best way we can. This is hard work and God is blessing us today because of your efforts.

Third, the point of the story is not that we all have to go out and give up everything or hand out money on the streets if we want to be saved. If we feel led to do that, fine. However, the point is that we must be people whose righteousness is manifested by compassion mercy giving, and sharing with those in need.

Fourth, the story also calls us to proclaim this righteousness. We live in a world that, like the lawyer wishing to justify himself asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor…” or “who is really my poor brother and sister?” I often hear Christians try to justify if we should really give to the poor, or if they are truly the poor whom Jesus loves. I admit, I was one of these Christians years ago.

However, we can speak up and call for mercy in others. When people share “myths of the homeless” such as “They are lazy,” “unwilling to work” or “really hiding money away and living in a nice home” we can speak up. We can say, “That’s false,” or “Not all people are like that,” or even “We are called by God to compassion not judgment.” We can speak out against those who use judgmental language to justify their unwillingness to help or show mercy. We can also tell stories of what happens here at Agape, or some of the people you know. Maybe those we speak to will realize that these are humans, in the image of God, and brothers and sisters to Jesus. We can teach young people compassion and how to help by showing mercy or letting them see that all adults are not the same.

The challenge of the parable does not address our verbal confession of Jesus. It challenges our actions. What are we doing for those who are vulnerable in society? Even more, is it enough just to empower a church to help the vulnerable? What does working with the poor have to say about my relationship with God, salvation, and spiritual righteousness?

When I was younger it seemed good for all of us to get people “ready for the judgment” and “prepare them to meet Jesus.” We also called people to “watch” and “be ready.”

Maybe now we can help others be ready to stand before Jesus who lives among the poor and seeks for the righteous who show he and his brothers and sisters mercy, compassion, and love.

  1. What were the differences in how the goats and sheep/righteous lived?
  2. How can a passive, trusting sheep be considered righteous today?
  3. What is the nature of a goat?
  4. What does this parable say to my walk with Jesus, spiritual growth, and discipleship?