And 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.’ Matthew 25:40
The verse above comes from Jesus’s final discourse in the book of Matthew seemingly about end times. The Son of Man, Jesus’s preferred reference to himself, has come in his glory to separate the sheep from the goats among all the nations. The qualifying factors for sheep appear to be:
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 sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36
To which the sheep respond, when did we do this? And Jesus answers when you did it to the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me. Apparently, the goats did not do these things and are separated to go away to eternal punishment.
This parable or metaphor raises several questions for me and an observation.
Who are the members of his family? Aren’t we, as the human race, all members of his family? Am I even qualified to determine who is a member of his family? Are only the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and imprisoned members of his family? I am none of those things, wouldn’t that disqualify me? How can I possibly have faith in a god that claims to be Love yet would damn beloveds to eternal punishment?
And the observation? In the end, it is the King who does the judging; not me and not you.
As a youngster when I would go downstairs for breakfast in the mornings, my mother always had the radio on in the kitchen tuned to a local AM news station. One of the broadcasts we listened to was Paul Harvey and his ‘The Rest of the Story’ segment. Thirteen years have passed since he was last on the air—he died in 2009—but I can still hear his distinct voice and cadence.
In this writing of Henri J.M. Nouwen I hear the voice of Paul Harvey say:
“If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, ‘Because it makes us die to our neighbor.’ At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look, we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, that prevents us from really being with the other.” The Way of the Heart
Doesn’t this seem like a more reasonable conclusion to the meaning of the parable in question, especially considering Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself?
Therein lies the problem. We are unwilling to die to our neighbor. Thus, we become unwilling to bake a birthday cake for a transgendered person. We refuse voting rights to people of color; we mock and terrorize LGBTQIA+ beloveds. We judge people based on a label rather than connecting to their hearts.
I can’t think of any eternal punishment worse than the delusional belief that I could be separate from Eternal Love.
According to treehugger.com the main difference between sheep and goats “is how they forage. Sheep are grazers; they ramble slowly eating short plants close to the ground. Goats are browsers; they look for leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs.”
… close to the ground …
The parable of the sheep and goats is a call to humility.
At the last supper with his twelve apostles, Jesus took off his robe, tied a towel around his waist and washed the feet of his friends.
Humility keeps us close to the ground where we can wash the feet of our neighbors.
May we follow his example.