This is one of those apocalyptic passages that the “left behind types” love to quote, the separating of the sheep from goats. Someone is going to be a sheep and go to heaven and the majority of us sinners will be goats in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. That all sounds pretty bad, especially if you don’t read any further. What’s the basis, the criteria, the judgment on which Jesus is making this separation? Who becomes a sheep? Who becomes a goat and why? Are the sheep those who voted straight ticket Republican? Are the goats the Democrats? Are the sheep those people who only used the New International Version or the King James Version? Could they be the people who bought into the culture war hype, whatever it was this week, month, or year, to believe that Christianity was on its deathbed if you didn’t subscribe to the most of narrow interpretation of what certain people called “faith”? No! It is none of those things. That’s not what Jesus was talking about when he described how one became a sheep or a goat.
The goats, the people at his left hand (verse 41) are those people who, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you have me nothing to drink, 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.” Christ is present in the people with the most basic human needs. Being with me, Christ says, is about meeting the needs of then neediest people and searching out those needs beyond whatever political and social agendas get attached to those needs. What’s more important, your soul or making a short-term political point? That’s the question Jesus is asking us today.
We cannot be held responsible for being a goat because we did not see you in any of the forms which you describe? When did we see you in jail? I’ve never seen you in jail. Jesus, I’ve never seen you hungry. Certainly Jesus, had I seen you hungry, I would have offered you a can of food or a voucher from a food bank. But tell me Jesus, when have I ever seen you hungry? You’ve never asked me to buy you a drink while standing next to you at the refrigerated beverages section at the variety store. Obviously you can’t be thirsty because I’ve not seen you in the places where I go to encounter people trying to drink things. Jesus, you’ve never once been with me in the waiting room at the health center. I never knew you were ill. Why didn’t you call? If you were sick you should have said something. When were you arrested? They don’t arrest people without cause. If they arrested you they probably had a pretty good reason. Do you know what it takes to visit someone in jail?
It seems like you’ve set a pretty high bar to become a sheep. Yes. The point is this: if we’ve seen anyone in these places we’ve seen him. Let me say that again. If we’ve seen anyone in these places we’ve seen Jesus. Once we’ve encountered Jesus, everything changes. I’m not talking about how you feel better about yourself when you decided Jesus to be in a personal relationship with Christ. I mean that the world alters, society changes when the body of Christ acknowledges Christ in all people and all places.
Let me tell you why think this passage is so appropriate for Christ the King Sunday and where we are as a nation.
I can hear Jesus asking this question today, were he sharing these same sentiments with his disciples on Ocracoke and throughout the United States: “The Lord will say to those on his left, I came seeking a better life, and you deported me. And we will ask, but Lord when did we ever try to deport you?”