Session 26: Sorting Out Sheep and Goats. Part II.

Holy Saturday 2020

This is post #26 of a series entitled RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 27 podcasts and blogs that focuses a bit deeper on the first five days of what we now call Holy Week. Using the Gospel text found in Matthew 21 through 25, we explore the major differences between organized religion and true relationship with Christ. Practical sessions that give us Jesus’ view of spirituality as compared to the religiousness found in so many people today. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.


Click here to listen to the podcast version of this blog!

Today’s Lectio Divina: “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 sick 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 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.’ 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 sick 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 sick 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.” Matthew 25: 31-46 (NIV)


Last time, I attempted to spell out, as best I can in a short blog, how I believe today’s passage in Matthew 25 has been misused and misinterpreted, doing more damage for the cause of Christ than much good.

Now, I know some of you, my dear readers, might be thinking that I’m just another one of those liberal theologians who believe there is no hell, nor will anyone be herded by Jesus into eternal doom.

But wait. Please don’t throw me under the bus yet.

I do firmly believe in both heaven and hell. And yes, I do believe there will be a moment in the future when God, the Eternal Loving King and His Precious Son, Jesus of Nazareth, will look upon all of our lives and weigh the fruit of what we have done with the blessings of life He has given us.

You see, I believe it’s really important when folks like us who want to rightly interpret the Bible to make sure we evaluate God’s Word in the full context with all the other words surrounding the text we are studying.

So, it is with Jesus’ sheep vs goat story found here at the end of Matthew 25.

If you’ve been with us through the entirety of this blog series, you might recall our post we did on Matthew 25: 14-30 (the text that appears right before Jesus’ sheep vs. goat story). There, we discussed the fact that from God’s perspective, every human being on the planet has been made in the image and likeness of God, and each one of us has been given a pot-load of blessings. Blessings of life that God granted to us with the commandment to go and prosper, learning to become good stewards of the blessings our Creator has given us.

As I see it, this lifetime is all about 1) learning who we are in God, and 2) learning how to steward the good life we’ve been given. In Jesus’ parable of the three workers (Matthew 25-14-30) He points out that each of the three servants had been given a specific blessing from the Master and a command to invest that blessing until he returned.

It’s interesting to me that the servant, who out of fear and self-centeredness, hid away his blessing, keeping it in darkness was the one who was found guilty of not doing what the Master had asked.

Now, as we keep reading into Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats, I believe the discernment of God that best identifies goats vs. sheep is not good works, but those who take their blessings and steward them generously, distinguishing themselves from those who keep all of God’s good to themselves, squandering it out of a fear of not having enough or out of a greedy self-centeredness.

As I see it, one of the most under-developed themes here in Jesus’ sheep vs goat story, is the fact that no one in the Master’s story (sheep or goat) is aware of their good works (or lack of good works) until Jesus points it out to them. In other words, could Jesus’ story here be less about good works (or the lack of them) and more about our stewardship awareness?

Hmmm.

As we discussed last time, salvation, from a Kingdom perspective, is never about how many good works we can do in this lifetime in order to win God’s favor. But, as the reformers reminded us 500 years ago, salvation is about relationship to God’s Son, accepting His grace and mercy for us, and then, as we receive that amazing grace, we become much freer to become the generous stewards of this life God intends us to be.

Over the years, pastors spend so much time, when preaching on Jesus’ sheep vs goat story, trying to explain the differences between sheep and goats. Yet, I find it interesting that in other cultures, the differences between the two species are very minute. Take for example, in 2015, the Chinese lunar calendar called for the new year to be the Year of the Goat. Yet in the Chinese graphics for 2015, pictures of both goats and sheep were used. This caused a big stir in the westernized world, but in China, no one complained.

Why?

Because in the Chinese culture, both sheep and goats are seen as one breed. Science actually tells us that both sheep and goats hail from the subfamily Caprinae, with the only difference being that sheep (Ovis aries) have 54 chromosomes while goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) have 60.

So, as we close the book on Matthew 25, maybe you and I need to be a bit more forgiving like the Chinese and not focus on our differences, but our common ground? Maybe we’d do the Master’s words a better service, if you and I stopped determining who, in this lifetime, is a sheep and who is a goat, and realize that all of us are lost Caprinae, all in need of a generous Savior who can teach us His ways, if we’ll only be humble enough to receive it.

Not a baaaaa-d idea, don’t you think?

My Prayer: Jesus, I believe that every word You speak has purpose and meaning. I hear Your warnings here and want to be found as one who was generous to others, full of grace and mercy for the under-served, the overlooked, and the ignored people around me. Holy Spirit, indwell me and empower me to love deeply and serve others graciously. For Your Name’s sake. Amen.

My Questions to Ponder: What might it look like for me to not pre-judge people, believing some are sheep, and others, goats? Can I put aside all the religious stereotypes and simply learn to love others as I love myself? Do I have eyes to see the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the shivering, the sick, or those in prison? And as the Spirit opens my eyes to those in need, am I willing to step out of my own self-consumption, allowing Jesus to work through me as I simply love and care for others?

So, what are you hearing from Jesus as we take this journey into the first 5 Days of Holy Week?


Religion or Relationship: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. 

A 27-session Lenten blog series from Matthew’s Holy Week Gospel.

Throughout the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), you and I will take a deeper look at Matthew 21-25. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use.

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to go onto the next session in this series…

1 thought on “Session 26: Sorting Out Sheep and Goats. Part II.

  1. Pingback: Session 25: Sorting Out Sheep and Goats. Part I. | The Contemplative Activist (TCA)

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