“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.”
Jesus had a way of painting a picture in words that was at the same time simple, complex and complete. As with the greatest message ever preached, his Sermon on the Mount recorded earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Emmanuel (that is, God with us) causes the audience to give careful attention, grab for a reference book (or two), applaud (wildly) and say, “Yeah, that’s right!”
Growing up on an 11-acre ranch north of Sacramento (Elverta, to be precise), I learned all-too-quickly the importance of animal separation. That is, certain animals just don’t mix well with others. While they are all of the kingdom of animals, the species are different. Our chickens and dogs didn’t mix well. (Actually, not at all.) Their essence demanded separation.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Ducks quack and dogs bark. I’ve seen videos of parrots that give a pretty good imitation of a duck quacking and dog barking. If I closed my eyes and didn’t pay careful attention to the sound, I might be fooled into believing that it was a duck or dog making noise, not the parrot. Still, even if I fall prey to the deception, it doesn’t make the parrot a duck or a dog. It simply is what it is.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
There’s a whole lot of quacking and barking goin’-on. If not careful, one can become confused by the cacophony and race to twist and quote scripture to justify wholly indefensible behavior. To borrow a phrase from P.T. Barnum, one may be able to fool some of the people all of time and all of the people some of the time, it’s impossible to bamboozle or justify behavior that is antithetical to the character of the Holy One.
“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
“Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.” Matthew 25:31-46, MSG
I recall a song of my youth titled, “Payday Is Coming After While.” It was a simple, straightforward song with the repeated refrain, payday is coming after while.
A p-k (preacher’s kid), Mark is the eighth of nine children born to Reuben and Henrietta Meeks, prolific planters of nearly 30 churches throughout the Central Valley of California. After four decades of teaching, discipling, and ministering, including to the hospitalized and imprisoned, Mark responded to God’s call to pastoral ministry. In addition to degrees in civil engineering and public administration, Mark received his Masters in Theology from Fuller Seminary.