Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place 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. 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 drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
We’ve come to the end of another Church Year and we celebrate it with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe or more commonly referred to as Christ the King Sunday.
I want to start by asserting the 3 basic messages that we get from Christ our King. He tells us:
- I love you. There is nothing you can do to keep me from loving you.
- I want you to love me. This is the critical component of having eternal life. If you don’t love me, then you really don’t have true life in you.
- You must love other people as you love yourself, even the ones whom you don’t like and especially those who may want to do you harm. And by the way, this is absolutely the best way to express your love for me.
This is basic. In reflecting on all this, I go to today’s Gospel lesson and take a rather cursory look at goats, the ones representing those who will be cast out at the final judgment. Not much good is said about goats in scripture. Although goat milk was used (Prov27:27), the rabbis discouraged the raising of goats.
The rabbis compared goats to “armed robbers” who could jump over fences and destroy crops. Goats are an independent, hard-headed lot and these are the qualities that make them representative of those being cast out at the final judgment. They tend to be self-centered, stubborn and especially defiant.
Our vernacular is tough on goats. Here are some of the more negative expressions I found:
“Old goat” is a description of an obnoxious older man.
“Scape goat” is someone on whom the blame is put.
“Judas goat” is a goat that is used to lead sheep into trucks and railroad cars to be taken off to slaughter.
Being the “goat” is the brunt of a joke or prank.
“He’s got my goat” means that someone has pulled a fast one on me.
Sheep on the other hand, are given a special place in scripture. Probably the most prominent of all the Psalms, Psalm 23 starts with that wonderful line “The Lord is my shepherd.” Note in the OT Lesson from Ezekiel that we read of a “shepherd” who tends his flock but does so with both a tender kindness and a ferocious, even ruthless protection. The Gospel lesson issues both a fierce and a loving warning. Note especially that it is both a prescription and a description.
On the one hand, a prescription is something that we must do if we are to achieve a desired goal. If our goal is heaven, then Jesus is clear that certain behaviors are required: a prescription.
On the other hand a description is a picture of the way things are or will be. Sheep and goats are identified by what they already are. In the Gospel lesson, one is either a goat or a sheep before the time of judgment. Here judgment is really an unveiling of what has long been true. The deeds of mercy which the sheep perform were not primarily deeds of merit, they were deeds of love.
What this means in large part is that the day of judgment is really a day of verdict. This is when the sentence is passed, based on quite a lot of historical evidence. The judgment has been percolating for a long time. Of course there are always opportunities for confession and reconciliation, a true conversion of life, but mostly we tend to continue our expressions of faithfulness or the lack thereof throughout our lives.
The ultimate expression of true faithfulness is really about our converted nature. Are we sheep, loving, humble and obedient to our Lord’s calling and directives or are we goats, consistently hard-headed, hard-hearted and a bit hard eyed, especially when it comes to our reluctance to put ourselves out for those in need.
In the Epistle of James, chpt. 2:14ff we read:
What does it profit…if someone says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Let me share with you a couple of stories: Prominent Baptist Pastor Tony Compollo tells about the time his mother called him and told him that Mrs. Kilpatrick had died. He said, “I’m 50 years old, but when you’re an Italian and your mother calls and tells you to do something, you do it.”
“Mom called me up and said, ‘Tony, Mrs. Kilpatrick died and you need to go to her funeral.” He said, “Mrs. Kilpatrick lived just down the street from us when I was growing up on the streets of Philadelphia.”
So on the day of the funeral Compollo went to the funeral home. Arriving a few minutes late, he rushed through the door, sat down and then saw that he was the only one there, except for one little woman in front of him. Then he looked at the coffin and suddenly realized that the man in the coffin was not Mrs. Kilpatrick. He was in the wrong chapel.
He said that just as he was about to stand up and leave, the woman turned around, touched him on the hand and asked, “Did you know him?” Compollo said, “What would you do if you were in a situation like that? If you were the only one who came to the funeral of this grieving woman’s husband, what would you do? He said, “I stayed for the whole service.”
“Then since I was the only one there, I even felt compelled to go the graveside service and stand there with the widow. When that was over and we were riding back together, I turned to her and said, ‘Mrs. King, I want you to know that I really didn’t know your husband.’”
He said “She reached out and took my hand and gripped it tightly and speaking softly and slowly, said, ‘That doesn’t matter. You’ll never know what your being here has meant to me.’”
Another story: St. Martin of Tours was a Roman Soldier who became Christian. One cold winter day as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money, but the beggar was shivering with the cold, so St. Martin gave him what he had.
He took off his soldier’s cloak, battered and thread bare as it was, cut it in two and gave half to the beggar. That night Martin had a dream. In it he saw heaven open and there was King Jesus on his throne surrounded by all the heavenly host. And Jesus in all his glory was wearing this half of St. Martin’s cloak that he had given to the beggar.
One of the angels asked, “Master, why are wearing this battered old cloak? Where did you get it?”
King Jesus replied, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”
Wonderful stories. In closing I’d like to share some thoughts:
Help in the simple things: find someone who is hungry and give them something to eat. Maybe even go work in a food kitchen.
Cheer up a sick person
Visit someone in jail
Give clothes to someone who doesn’t have any—or at least give some of your good stuff to St. Vinnie’s.
It doesn’t take anything out of the ordinary to do these kinds of things. It just means that you are making yourself available for another person who’s going through some tough times.
- Be uncalculating. From the Gospel, we see the sheep, those who made themselves available to tend the needs of others,were surprised when Jesus told them that what they did for others they did for him. They were motivated by a loving heart; they were not seeking approval.
- Compare them to the goats, who in essence said, “Gee, if we had known it was you Lord, we would have been glad to help. We just thought they were some of those whiney energy drainers who are always trying to play on our sympathies.
It’s always easy to help if we think we will be rewarded or appreciated or even thanked. I think that to give help like that is less about helping and more about pandering to self-esteem. Such help is not generosity; it’s disguised selfishness. The help which wins the approval of God is that which is given for nothing except for the sake of helping.
Jesus confronts us with the wonderful truth that all such help given to others is love expressed to him—and all such help withheld is withheld from him.
As we close out this liturgical year and begin a new one, let us resolve to give with a sense of joy and less judgment. If you think you might be with the goats, consider doing a serious personal spiritual inventory, get to confession and pray for conversion of life. This is one of those great mysteries of faith: Goats can become sheep. And sheep know that in contributing to those in need they are ministering to Christ Jesus himself. That puts things in perspective. This is loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And it is the primary criterion for being welcomed into heaven at the time of the final judgment.