Sheep and Goats
- Become more sensitive to the needs of others.
- Suggest specific ways we can meet the needs of others.
- Tell how Jesus will judge people when he comes again.
Each of Jesus' parables is like a snapshot of the same thing, the kingdom of God. But each shot is taken from a different angle and serves as a fresh revelation of the ways of God's kingdom. This parable is like the parable of the ten virgins in reminding us how we should prepare ourselves for the time of judgment. It's also like the parable of the lost sheep in addressing our proper attitude toward those who are rejected and neglected.
The opening scene of this parable is very dramatic: we picture the heavenly throne of the Son of Man who is now the heavenly King. All the people of the world are gathered before him, awaiting his judgment, for the time has come for a great separation of the obedient servants of the King (the sheep) from the rebellious servants (the goats). As the action begins, the separation has already taken place, and all humankind is divided into two huge groups on the King's right hand and on the King's left hand.
In Palestine, sheep and goats tended to be mixed together in a flock during the day. But when evening came, they were separated. Goats had to be kept warm during the night, but sheep, the more valuable animals, preferred to sleep outdoors in the cold.
Both the "sheep" and the "goats" are surprised by the King's standard of judgment. No one expected it to be in terms of the things they had done or not done for the people, especially not for the "little people"---the stranger, the outcast, the oppressed. But don't we too tend to think that the judgment will be exclusively in terms of our relationship to God through Jesus rather than our relationships with others?
The standard of judgment is always people's attitude and actions toward "one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine." These are the very people to whom Jesus often paid attention---the poor, the needy, the despised, and the helpless. The deepest surprise is that Jesus identifies himself so closely with them that to serve them in any way is to serve him.
The parable emphasizes two very important aspects of God's kingdom. First, while our salvation is clearly the gift of God's grace through Jesus Christ, we will be judged on the basis of how we have lived out of that grace in relationship to others. Just as we learned about forgiveness in the parable of the unmerciful servant, so we learn about God's grace in this parable. It's meant to be a circle, the circuit of which is made complete by our own gracious living.
Second, the parable shows us again the unbreakable bond that Jesus established between loving God and loving our neighbor. If we truly love God, we will love our neighbor in concrete and unmistakable ways. If we don't, we are indicating a lack of love for God. The two are simply inseparable.