Good morning and welcome to the end of another week. Today we will finish Jesus’ teaching on the end times, the day he will return to judge us: our attitude and our actions.
Today’s reading is Matthew 25:31-46 and it is entitled in my Bible, “the Sheep and the Goats.” It is the climax of this week’s readings, it is what this series of parables has been building up to. Put plainly, when Jesus returns some people will measure up and others won’t.
In today’s culture this is hard for us to hear. Jesus talks about judgement, of eternal punishment and eternal life. In our society, where tolerance is held up as the highest and best way to live, where people seem very quick to take offence, here it would seem that we have a very intolerant, judgemental and offensive Jesus.
Jesus does speak about separating sheep from goats, the sheep will join him and take their place in the kingdom of God, but the goats, they will be sent away and end up in the eternal fire.
Jesus, how dare you! Jesus, who on earth gave you the right to judge anyone?
In response, Jesus would be quite right in reminding us that it wasn’t ‘anyone’ on earth that gave him the authority to judge… it was his father in heaven!
So, are we sheep or goats and how do we tell? Let’s read Verses 37-40…
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 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.’
Jesus distinguishes between the sheep and the goats by looking at how we treat people, especially the people at the bottom of society, those on the margins.
Now, don’t for a minute think that Jesus has given us a tick list! Feed a homeless person, tick. Are you thirsty? Here have a bottle of water! Tick. Are you a stranger? Have food at my house! Tick! Have some clothes, your jeans seem to have got a little ripped! Tick. You’re in hospital, great, here’s my chance! Prison… er… sure, tick, job done. I’ve completed the list, I’ve got my ticket, eternal life… I’m in, job done, smashed it, Bring on the day of judgement!? Oh yeah!
Of course Jesus isn’t providing us with an exhaustive list. He’s pointing us to a deeper truth, Yes it’s about what we do – our external actions – but it runs deeper than that… Jesus addresses the internal attitude of our hearts? Recognising that on the outside some sheep look like goats and some goats look remarkably sheep like.
One writer said that Jesus tells us here that we will be judged on our attitude to human need. Do we care? Notice the righteous – the sheep – answer Jesus, ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you.’ The sheep are not loving and serving people because they know they are serving Jesus, because they are working through the tick list. They are doing it because that is who they are on the inside, it is who they have become by living closely with Jesus.
When Jesus returns he should find us demonstrating the love that has grown in our hearts through our connection with him. Loving not for reward, but simply for love.
In Church we sing and shout about how much we love Jesus… that’s a good thing to do. But all too often it stops there… we don’t connect meaningfully with him and so we struggle to demonstrate that love in practical ways. Jesus says we love him by loving those around us, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, the depressed, the angry, the ungrateful, the lonely, the desperate, the dysfunctional, the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the guy in the subway, the girl in the class, the guy on the check out… the old person who lives next door, the drug dealer, the executive, the little children, the teenagers…
It’s a paradox… we love people as we love Jesus, as we love Jesus we love people – the two go hand in hand.
If, like me, you recognise this morning that we still have a long way to go, that Jesus still has his work cut out to shape and transform our hearts from one of pride and selfishness to one of love and selflessness…
Confess it! Tell Jesus, let us recognise our need of him, let us draw close and allow his love and forgiveness to transform our hearts and then let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuck in!
Father, forgive us. Life seems so busy and helping others takes up so much time. Help us to reset our priorities, help us to stop worrying about our lives and our needs and become aware of those around us. Make our hearts soft and open by the power of your Holy Spirit, in Jesus name. Amen.
READING: Matthew 25:31-46
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
‘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. 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘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 he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”
‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
‘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.”
‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’