The Parable of the Sheep and Goats ~ Matthew 25:3-54
Jesus’ parables can be difficult to understand, but the Parable of the Sheep and Goats is one seems quite straightforward, but there is a twist in the tale, as with many of his parables.
Jesus starts the parable by saying that when he returns to the earth (the scriptures prophesy of him returning to earth, but no one can say when). Then all the people of the earth will be gathered before him, and he will begin to sort them into two groups. He likened this to a shepherd separating sheep from goats. The sheep he will put at his right hand and the goats at his left hand.
He will then say to the sheep on his right hand; Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
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 25:34-40 NRSV
Jesus carried on saying he would then turn to the goats at his left hand and say; ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’ Matthew 25:41-43 NRSV
The goats will be horrified and completely bewildered and ask the Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, sick or naked?
Jesus will reply with words to the effect of; when you failed to offer support to those being overlooked or ignored around you, it was me who you failed to support.
Reflection on the parable:
In essence, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats describes redeemed and saved people and those who will be condemned and lost.
But there is more than that because the good works spoken of in the parable are not the reason for their salvation; but rather the effect of their salvation.
Because as Christians endeavour to become more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18), they gradually develop fruits of the spirit and become less self-centered and more Christ-centered.
St Paul’s letter to the Galatians said that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ Galatians 5:22 NRSV
Many people carry out good works as an outflowing of these qualities. Their works are pleasing and acceptable to God because of the trusting relationship between the sheep and their Shepherd.
Jesus is saying in this parable that God’s people will love and care for others, and their good works will be a direct result of their relationship with the Shepherd. Those who love Jesus will treat others with kindness, serving them as if they were serving Christ Himself.
However, those who are not prepared to turn away from self-centered and un-Christlike behaviour; live in an opposite way.
While ‘goats’ can and will perform certain acts of kindness and charity, their actions have ulterior motives and are not carried out for the pure love of Christ.
In his book Zen Wisdom for Christians, Christopher Collingwood put it like this: ‘To awaken to our own enlightenment is to be aware of the essential unity of all things, in which each thing is just what it is – the manifestation of wisdom and compassion’.
I would sum up by saying that all of God’s creation is as one, when one part hurts so do the other parts. Most people view the world through the lens of themselves and what is best for them. As we drop that view and see that we are all part of the same body, then we can become awakened and naturally inclined to do all the things Jesus praised the sheep for doing.
It’s never too late to start learning more about Jesus and start storing up treasures in heaven; you might find these blogs helpful in doing that: