Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Gospel reading for this week, from Matthew 25:31-46, speaks of a separation of the righteous and unrighteous in the last day. God will gather his people and separate them as a shepherd would separate sheep and goats.
What is surprising here is that the identity of the sheep and goats seems to be unknown to them. Both groups look identical. They can only be separated by God. Both groups seem to think they are doing things like feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and visiting those who are sick and in prison. They both clearly recognize God in his glory at this time.
In the last day, God will engage in a work of separation. This is clear, not only from this passage of Scripture, but from many. He will pull out the people who have lived righteously, according to His will. Those will enter into some sort of reward. The rest will enter into condemnation.
Notice I used language which seems to expect works of some kind? What does it mean to “live righteously”? Elsewhere in Scripture we see that the heart of righteousness is to believe the LORD. We believe God is exactly who he says he is and that he has done exactly what he says he has done. Just as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness, we also believe God. Just as Abraham’s actions were influenced by his beliefs, our actions are influenced by our beliefs. Just as Abraham was moved to repentance by his sins, so we are moved to repentance by our sins.
This is heart and center of the difference between the sheep and the goats. The goats didn’t recognize their Lord’s priorities. They say they would have helped him but never noticed him in need of help. This says that God’s creation doesn’t really matter. It says that our priorities get to rule the day.
May we make no mistake. The Lord says that we care for the weak, the helpless, the hurting, the hopless. It is as we do things which will nurture them, and nurture their ability to trust in the Lord, since they see God’s provision through our hands, that we show ourselves to be the sheep. The irony is that we may well never notice that we are doing these works. They are simply habits. May the Lord raise up many sheep in this world, bringing hope, help, and comfort to all creation.
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