Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

The Great Divide

22 Nov 2020, 12:15 a.m.

The separation of the sheep and goats disturbs me as it is meant to. We are stirred up to do something about injustice in our world.

When Jesus comes again in glory, it won’t be as a helpless baby. He will be surrounded by angels and every eye will see him. Jesus is not tiny. He is huge, majestic, splendid and glorious.

He comes as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Those who haven’t believed in him and those who have ignored his teaching will take notice for he comes to judge the quick and the dead.

The nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people one from another. This is not a case of all Muslim nations going to hell and all so called Christian nations going to heaven. Jesus separates the people within nations. National identities no longer matter.

He separates people in the same way a shepherd separates sheep from goats. Goats and sheep look so alike in the Middle East that it is very difficult for anyone other than the shepherd to tell the difference.

King Jesus is all powerful. He makes the decisions about our destiny. We cannot present our case or argue with his decision.

He knows what we have done with our lives and our innermost thoughts, whether they have been loving or selfish. That’s scary!

All of those standing before God’s judgement throne are shocked. Neither the sheep nor the goats appear to have had a previous relationship with Jesus.

The sheep are invited to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. They are blessed by Jesus’ heavenly Father and brought into a place of joy.

This is their reward for providing Jesus who they didn’t recognise with food and drink, for welcoming him even though he was a stranger to them, for clothing him when he was naked, for caring for him when he was sick and for visiting him in prison.

When Jesus was speaking he knew he was going to experience all those things in the coming week as he suffered and died on Calvary. His disciples who loved him dearly were not going to provide any of those things. Does this mean they were not going to be welcomed into God’s Kingdom when it comes in all of its fullness and power?

All the disciples were going to feel abject failures during the following weeks.

We are human beings and limited in what we are able to give and do when faced with the evils of our day.

We can identify with being both a sheep and a goat. We inevitably help some and ignore others. What we do depends upon what we are faced with.

Just as Jesus identified with us in having a human birth and upbringing, he identifies with us in our poverty and helplessness.

The sheep were welcomed to a Kingdom of joy because they had looked after the least in Christ’s family and in doing so they had looked after him.

The goats on the other hand had failed to provide for the least in Christ’s family and were consequently consigned to the eternal fire prepared, not for them, but for the devil and his messengers.

As followers of Jesus who worship and love him, we need to remind ourselves that when we respond to the needs of the poor we are responding to Jesus himself.

When St Francis felt an outpouring of love for the leper and reached out to kiss him he saw the face of Christ and his life was changed.

He joyfully dedicated his life to caring for the least in Christ’s family.

Seeing Jesus in the eyes of the least transforms them and us. We see their beauty as humans created in the image of God. Loving them is a way of loving Jesus in human flesh. It transforms cold giving in response to a need into an act of worship.

When the church is under pressure it is not her valuables that our most precious treasure but the poor in her midst.

Was Jesus speaking to reassure or unsettle his disciples? This passage raises many questions.

Are we are saved because of what Christ has done for us alone, by works of righteousness or both?

Will we be standing before God’s throne on the occasion described or will we as the dead in Christ have already gone to meet him in the air? The previous chapter, Matthew 24 speaks of the angels gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth.

Matthew was speaking to a persecuted church, suffering hunger, thirst, sickness, imprisonment and death. There were humane human beings who were not followers of Christ who cared enough to help and there were those who added to their pain.

Some think Jesus spoke these words to reassure the persecuted members of his family that justice will come. Those who don’t know Jesus will be judged by the way they treated his body, the church. If they have cared for the poor Jesus will invite them into his Kingdom.

If they have persecuted Christians, they have persecuted Christ and will be condemned to eternal punishment.

Does this mean that as Christians we are let off and spared from the judgement to come?

All we have and are is laid bare before King Jesus. Whilst I do not believe we will stand before Jesus in his final judgement of this world, we will be judged.

Our faith in the Lord Jesus, Paul says in Ephesians, is outworked in love for each other.

Unlike those who haven’t yet got a relationship with our Lord we have immeasurable resources to draw on in Christ. We are his body on earth, full of power, love, wisdom and glory.

One day Jesus will ask us what we have done with the resources we have been given in him.

Have we chosen love of the least, whose basic needs are not being met over self-comfort?

We live in an age and a week of unprecedented greed and hunger.

National and individual debts have become larger this year. Whilst this happens most years, COVID 19 has led to unprecedented borrowing.

Since the call went out from David Cameron’s government for a Big Society, we have seen a reliance on the parish and other churches and faiths communities to supply basic needs, to give debt advice, provide shelter for the increasing number of homeless, to provide job clubs, toddler groups, food banks etc.

Throughout lockdown the government has been keen the support given for the least in our society continues even when it puts elderly church members at risk.

They have been less keen to acknowledge that Christian love comes through Christ who we worship. As our worship services have been closed down and our buildings locked, may we find new ways of spending time in Christ’s presence so that we minister from the love and fullness he fills us with rather than a hole inside.

Until Jesus returns in his glory and sweeps away injustice, may others see Jesus in us through our loving, active, caring compassion.