Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras
Matthew 25:31-46-- Christ the King Sunday
November 22, 2020
The parable of sheep and goats is about our Lord Jesus' second coming and the final judgment. We read in this parable that all the nations come before the King Jesus Christ for judgment. In this context, Jesus is using the analogy of the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats as a metaphor for final separation for the righteous who will inherit eternal life and the wicked who will inherit everlasting punishment.
When you observe the sheep and goats carefully, you will notice that they are very different in personality. The sheep are meek animals and more docile to the shepherd. Unlike sheep, goats have a reputation for being stubborn and misbehaved. From this comparison, Jesus tells us that the righteous are obedient to the Lord. They are docile, whereas those who are wicked are stubborn and refuse to obey God. Jesus put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left hand and starts to pronounce judgment.
Jesus calls the sheep blessed of my father, indicating that the blessing is a gift from God. Jesus, as a king, invites the sheep to inherit his kingdom. This is a metaphor of a king giving the inheritance to his subject. God prepared this inheritance from the foundation of the world. God knows from the beginning of the world who will inherit God's kingdom. God knows before you were born whether you would be righteous or wicked.
What is the condition to get into the kingdom? Jesus does not say, come and inherit the kingdom all who believed in me or accepted me as the Messiah. This might make us, Lutherans, uncomfortable because faith is not mentioned here. This parable is related to the work of faith or the fruits of faith, such as feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, covering the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners. The King Jesus Christ is pleased with the sheep who lived their baptismal life every single day by sharing the love of Christ with their community. They lived out their faith and risked their lives for Christ. Those righteous partook in the body of Christ and left the church building to become a church to the community and the world.
Jesus says, "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." Every work of faith done to the marginalized is, in essence, an act of charity done to Christ himself. The rewards for the fruits of faith are entering the kingdom of God and having eternal life.
The goats or the wicked who stand on the left hand are not blessed but cursed. The goats are Christians who do not live out their faith. They are Christians by name. In other words, they are Christians but not disciples of the Lord. They like to show people that they go to church and memorize the Bible and partake of the body of Christ, but they are not willing to love their neighbor or open their home to the stranger or their wallet to the poor. They love to talk about grace but not discipleship or the cross. Their faith is limited to one hour a week—Sunday service. The reward for those wicked is eternal punishment.
The image that Jesus uses to describe the separation of fallen angels from God is eternal fire. This fire is not an actual fire, but it is a spiritual fire because the angels do not have material bodies to burn in fire. The fallen angels and the wicked would experience the pain of being separated from God for eternity.
This parable assures us that the judgment was already decided based on the actions we lived our lives. The apostle James explains: "4 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 5:14-17).
When you fail to love your neighbor, you fail to love God. In his first letter, 4:20, the evangelist John challenges all of us by saying, "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."
I wonder how each one of us during this pandemic understands this parable. We are overwhelmed by the coronavirus. Unfortunately, not everyone is ministering to their neighbor as Christ did. The coronavirus surge is starting to crush some hospitals, and the medical staff are overwhelmed. Our Lord is calling each one of us to participate in ending this pandemic. Taking care of myself and my neighbor is like taking care of Christ himself. Take your faith seriously by showing love to your neighbor, particularly your neighbor with whom you disagree politically. Try to see Christ in your neighbor. Amid this global crisis, our Lord is inviting you and me to see him in each person you encounter. I pray that your neighbor will see Christ in you, too.