The Judgment of the Nations
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at 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 25:31-40 (NRSV)
Last weekend, while my son was still home on Spring Break, my family planned a “Mom Fun-day.” They didn’t tell me where we were going or what we’d be doing, but they told me to get ready to have some fun. Now I don’t know how it works in your house when your family plans something fun to do, but in my house, what I deem fun and what my husband and my kids deem fun is many times very different. I was told to wear a sweatshirt and shoes that I didn’t mind getting dirty, and I immediately thought to myself, “This sounds like we’re off on the wrong foot already!” Well, we got in the car and drove across town, and to my surprise, we pulled into a farm—Simmons Farm, it’s called. Once we got there, I started to smile because I had a pretty good idea of what we were doing.
Simmons Farm offers Goat Yoga classes, and they have a farm stand, but in the early spring, they offer a program called “Pet and Cuddle.” As most of you know, the spring is when most animals have their babies. Pet and Cuddle is a program that allows you to hold and cuddle little baby goats and lambs and piglets. We went inside and there were little goats and lambs running all around. The woman by the door was holding an eight-day-old piglet, and though she told us that we couldn’t hold it because it had razor sharp teeth, we got to pet it. The woman then told us that the goats and the lambs loved to be cuddled, and she told us to just pick them up like you would a cat.
There was a goat in a separate area that was only a few hours old, and we were allowed to hold several others that were only a day old. All of the animals were absolutely adorable, and they were just so fuzzy and cuddly. But even at only a few days old, they already had minds of their own. Some of the goats, when you held them, would try to eat your hair. Others would be cuddling with their moms one minute and then running and kicking their back legs up and almost fighting with the others. I started thinking that it’s just like when you get a group of humans together. Some sit quietly, some enjoy gathering in small groups with friends, some get in each other’s business, some just downright fight. And also like animals, sometimes we are nice to each other and sometimes we can get a little too rambunctious and cross boundaries of personal space.
All of the animals were so cute, but the longer we watched them and held them, the more we saw their mischievous sides. Some were trying to sneak out under the fence, while others were chewing on people pants and jackets. Obviously, they were not trying to harm anything. They were simply being goats and sheep and doing what goats and sheep do.
Interestingly enough, our Scripture reading today was also about goats and sheep. We heard the story that is sometimes referred to as “The Judgement of the Nations.” Scripture tells us, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.”
But friends, I want us to remember in today’s Scripture reading when Jesus is talking about the goats and the sheep, that it’s a story that he is telling. Jesus is telling a story in hopes that the story will prompt people to look at the world a little differently. There are a lot of important pieces to today’s story, but unfortunately, when most people hear it, they focus on one thing, the separation of the goats and the sheep, and they immediately think: “Am I a goat, or am I a sheep? My goodness, I hope that I’m a sheep, but I might be a goat, I’m not really sure.” And the truth is my friends, that’s what we do as human beings. It’s human nature to try to fit into one group or the other. So what do you think? Are we sheep or are we goats? When the time comes that the goats and sheep are separated, will we be the “right” one? Will we go to the “good” side or will we go to the “bad?” Have we done things right or are we wrong?
Well, my friends, this is another moment to take a deep breath, because the goats and sheep that Jesus is talking about are metaphorical goats and sheep. Though that is the part that we often get stuck on, that’s not actually the focus of the message. Jesus goes on to talk about the goats and the sheep, but when he does, he is not focusing on which group they are in but rather the way that they live their lives and the way that they treated others.
I think that one of the most interesting parts is that when shepherds in the story separate the goats from the sheep, the goats and the sheep have no idea which group they fit into. The King says: “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.” But what was their immediate reaction? They asked, “When did we do all of those things?” The sheep had no idea that they had done what was right, just like I’m sure the goats had no idea that they had done anything wrong.
That is when Jesus teaches us to look for him in each and every person. Do you remember way back in the book of Genesis we’re told that we are all made in the image of God? All of us, each and every one of us! Then Jesus takes that message from the book of Genesis a step further in today’s Scripture and 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.”
Jesus gave so many examples of people in whom we can see the face of God—in the hungry, in the thirsty, in the naked, in the sick and in the imprisoned. We can all identify that those are people in need. So, when we reach out and help others, we help Jesus, right? But one of the examples that we often skip over is seeing God in the face of a stranger. We don’t know them, and they might not need our help as the others did. They might be rude to us and look down their noses at us. They may look different than us or act different than us or vote different than us. But it’s even in that person—and especially in that person—that we can see the face of God and experience the love of Jesus. It’s our job to reach out in all of those places.
Think about this for a minute: there is not a person in this world that is not made in the image of God. I think we sometimes forget that. We tend to think that if someone is a ‘church’ person, they must be made in the image of God, and they are “okay.” Or that if they’re a part of some other group that I’m a part of, they must be okay. But the truth is, my friends, every person that you meet—in the grocery store and in the bank and on the street corner, the people you see on tv and in the news, the people we hear about around the world, the people we agree with and the people that frustrate us beyond measure—they are all made in the image of God! And when we love them and serve them, we are also loving and serving Jesus.
I think it’s interesting that today we’re celebrating Alara’s baptism. We had played around with several dates trying to find the right one, and yet Alara is here with her family celebrating with us today. One of the gifts that she was given at her baptism was a stuffed lamb to remind her that she is a member of God’s flock. Now, because Alara is now baptized and she is one of God’s flock, does that mean that she automatically sits at the right hand of the king? No. Does it mean that she will always be perfect? No. Does it mean that she will always make the right choices? No. Does it mean that she will always be a sheep and never have a little goat in her? Amber and Neeka, as a mom of three grown children myself, I can tell you, the answer is… “No.”
To be honest my friends, God looks at all of us as part of the flock. Sometimes we’re sheep, and sometimes we’re goats, each and every one of us. Sometimes we make good choices and decisions, and sometimes we make choices and decisions that aren’t always the best. Sometimes we treat strangers with abundant hospitality, while other times we treat strangers like they are invisible. Sometimes we reach out and help the hungry and the homeless, and other times we simply walk by the hungry and the homeless like they don’t matter. And even the people we love, sometimes we treat them nicely, and other times we treat less than kindly.
I want you to understand that Jesus told this story not to make people feel guilty but to remind them that they can see the face of God in each and every person that they meet. Jesus himself is in each person that we meet and it’s our job to love them, and to serve them, and to treat them as we would treat Jesus. Sure, we’re going to have days when we’re not making the best choices. Sure there’s going to be days when we are more like the little goats trying to sneak under the fence, or fighting with our friends, or rambunctiously kicking up our heels or nibbling on something we shouldn’t.
Friends, remember that we are all part of God’s flock, sheep and goats included, and it’s our job to try our very best to remember who and whose we are and to treat others in the very same way as we want to be treated. Because sometimes, the example that we set teaches others more like Jesus than our words ever can. Jesus often told stories to teach the people around him, and it’s our job to be examples of Jesus’ teaching so that others might follow Jesus too.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, look at the world around you through the eyes of your heart. As you look at the people around you, look for the glimpses of God within them. Know that sometimes it might be more difficult than others, and when that happens it’s usually because your anger or your frustration or your judgment is getting in the way. Friends, that’s when you need to search within yourself, remember that everyone is made in the image of God and then look a little harder. And when you do, you just might be surprised at the beauty that you see around you.
My friends may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!