“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
“In two ways the parable of the Sheep and the Goats directly addresses the question raised by the others [by ‘others’ the author is talking about the previous parables of Matthew 25 where the groom for the wedding and the master are absent as well as in this parable.]: the issue of the absentee landlord, the missing God. First, it gives a glimpse of the landlord’s return on judgment day, when there will be hell to pay – literally. The departed One will return, this time in power and in glory, to settle accounts for all that has happened on earth. ‘Men of Galilee,’ said the angels, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
“Second, the parable refers to the meantime, the centuries-long interval we live in now, the time when God seems absent. The answer to that most modern question is at once profound and shocking. God has not absconded at all. Rather, he has taken on a disguise, a most unlikely disguise of the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the ragged ones of earth: ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’ If we cannot detect God’s presence in the world, it may be that we have been looking in the wrong places.”
- Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew
I have written about this parable before and how it makes me uneasy. I pass by countless homeless, but only stopping on rare occasions. My wife and I have volunteered with a few local charities in helping the homeless, but our physical abilities are diminished and the jobs that we once did had no back-up plan if someone called in sick.
On one occasion when we lived on the west coast, we met a friend in town. We invited him over for dinner. My friend had quit his job to try to save his marriage, three time zones away. (His wife had refused to relocate with him when he got the job. In his absence, his wife started playing the field back in the hometown.) What we did not know was that his wife kicked him out of the house that he had built for her. She had found someone else. Now homeless, he traveled back across three time zones, back to where he had quit his job. He was too embarrassed to ask for his job back, so he found a cardboard box underneath a bridge. A lady from the church that he attended (when he was working) recognized him. She took him into her home. In time, they became friends, and he got a job – not what he had been doing bwfore, but something stable.
Why mention this? Some of those homeless people have just had a drastic detour in their lives. They are not simply substance abusers or people hiding from the law. And even those are fellow human beings.
No, compare the people in Jesus’ parable with the people that Jesus dined with during His ministry. It was much of the same kind. I have heard many people say, and I have echoed it in a couple of blog posts, that Jesus, if He returned for a repeat of His original ministry, would probably spend little time in churches or with the church leaders. We might not be Pharisees, but Jesus came the first time to heal the sick, not give the healthy a pat on the back. And if we are modern Pharisees, Jesus would have less patience with us as He did with the Pharisees of His day. We have the Bible as a guide and 2000 years of interpretations.
Yet, Jesus will come back to judge, not to relive His old ministry. There are no do-overs on that ministry. The do-over is for us to take up the mantel and heal the sick and spread the Gospel ourselves. Whether we hand someone a fish sandwich, or we teach them how to fish, we are ministering to those of whom Jesus spoke of in the parable. But the important thing is to show and tell them how Jesus loves them, and that He died to save them.
I got a lot out of Yancey’s view of this parable. I don’t know if I had ever made a mental note of the ‘absentee’ master of the parables in this chapter of Matthew before. If you don’t read the entire chapter, you will miss it. If you are in a hurry to finish the Bible in one year, you may miss it then too. And I don’t think that I have mentally connected these parables as being just before Jesus was to be crucified and how He would soon ascend. He was preparing His disciples for what was to come – and very soon.
As such, we have no idea when the return of Jesus will be. We need to take these parables to heart and continue the work Jesus started.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.