A Word From Our Bishop

I have sat through some terrible preaching on the sheep and the goats. You remember the passage where Jesus is in the temple, only a few days away from his betrayal, trial and death and he looks around at the crowded temple and then tells three parables that are all connected: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish bridesmaids, the Parable of the Talents and then the Parable of Judgement – the sheep and the goats. In the end, the goats are sent away from Jesus in the final judgement because they had not fed the hungry and thirsty, or visited the sick and imprisoned. The terrible preaching is rooted in the irresistible desire by some to hedge and assume that Jesus would never separate us out, one from the other. Others glory in the judgement, feeling righteous about the condemnation of the goats. 

I was raised in a different denomination that saw conversion to correct belief and interior commitment to Jesus as the only manner of being saved. However, this parable was about being received into the kingdom because of the good works of mercy that had been accomplished in life: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and imprisoned and you visited me.” It could be confusing. 

All my life I had been warned that just being a ‘good person’ wasn’t enough, that faith and accepting Jesus as my Saviour was the only way to salvation. Nothing I did in the list of acts of mercy above would make me right with God. 

On the one hand, preachers have agonized over this text because it implied that our care for the poor, sick, hungry, naked and imprisoned mattered with regard to salvation. On the other hand, preachers later in my life were undone by the thought of God making any judgement at all. They could not fathom that God’s inclusive love could end in condemnation. 

But we must remember, that Jesus is only days away from his betrayal, trial and death. This is his last public teaching; given in the precincts of the temple. Jesus is very aware of the shifts and politics around him and he has warned his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer and die in Jerusalem. So in light of these hard parables and teachings, the contemporary desire to make Jesus more loveable or at the least more pliable to our sensibilities is a terrible temptation. We must not give in, but instead, look again. 

Both the sheep and goats are surprised by the judgement of the Son of Man. The goats clothe themselves in injured ignorance when the Son of Man indicts them for the unrelieved hunger, thirst, want and loneliness they had observed and to which they did not respond. Their objection is that if they had known it was Jesus who suffered hunger, thirst, want or loneliness, then they would have stepped right up. But they hadn’t seen Jesus in the suffering and so they are lost. 

The sheep will also wonder at when it was they saw the Son of Man in any of these disguises. They had seen need, but hadn’t see Jesus – and they reacted to the need by acting with compassion. The goats are condemned because they saw suffering but did not see Jesus. The sheep are welcomed into paradise because while they didn’t see Jesus, they saw suffering, and responded with compassion and love. 

We are only a short way from the beginning of Lent. It is time for us to engage our faith while we use our eyes so we can see Jesus in all those around us, but most especially in those who are suffering. We must not turn away. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, though neither group saw Jesus, the sheep saw the hunger, thirst, want, and loneliness as demanding compassion even if they did not perceive that they were doing it for Christ. We must take the time now to be sure our eyes behold what our faith can and will perceive: Jesus in all those around us. We have an advantage over both the sheep and the goats. 

We have been warned. We can use our faith to seek and serve Christ in those around us, loving our neighbours as ourselves. Be on the lookout for Jesus, for he is in the suffering around you and reach out in compassion. 


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