CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Sheep and Goats
Jesus said, “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.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 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.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
- Matthew 25:31-46
In 2017, I led a group of American Episcopal musicians down to Havana to participate in the Diocesan Music Festival. In many ways, it was like any other music festival with church folks: rehearsals, logistical planning, the coordination of attire, etc. And, yet, there was rich symbolism that would be apparent, particularly to Episcopalians in Cuba. We were, after all, the first musical delegation to participate in an official event in the Diocese of Cuba since denominational ties were cut between the Diocese of Cuba and The Episcopal Church in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. While relations remained warm between faithful Christians in both places, the official channels were broken and separated out into the two opposing sides of the Cold War. This situation was not rectified until General Convention 2018. We can reflect on the unfortunate consequences of political separations like this one and the real toll that they take on the lives of people in both places. At the end of the day, God is the only one with the authority to judge the secrets of our hearts, and even that will take place in a way that is shrouded with mystery. The temptation, of course, exists for us to decide who the sheep are and who the goats are, rarely considering ourselves to be in the undesirable category. This tendency abounded during the Cold War, and it continues today in our own political landscape right here in the United States.
Funnily enough, this parable entered my mind at lunch after the closing Eucharist of the music festival when our group went to a restaurant called La Catedral, appropriately named for its location near the Episcopal cathedral. As I discerned my lunch options, I asked the waiter to help me decide between two really tantalizing options; chilindrón de chivo (goat in a Creole sauce) and estofado de cordero (lamb stew). His response added to my impending silent theological reflection: When you think about it, it’s a very similar type of meat, just with a different sauce. That’s it! That’s it! In our divisions, we tend to assign more difference than we should. Our judgements of one another may be rooted in very real and painful stories of brokenness and sin, but they must not be confused with final judgement of a soul. We do not possess such authority, and, when we pretend to, we run into many issues as we focus disproportionately on the differences of the “sauce” more than the similarity of the “meat”—just like the waiter explained to me that day. For one, the hope of reconciliation is available to us in Jesus Christ, even in our deepest divisions. While processes of healing and restoration are never easy, they are possible. In the eyes of God, we are all potential sheep, even when our tendency is to act like a bunch of stubborn goats. As we reflect on this parable and its relation to the Reign of Christ, may we give thanks for our lack of final authority, and may we approach every conflict with an appeal to God’s holy wisdom and not our own. By the way, I ordered the goat!
Tags: Caminando with Jesus