Matthew 25: Sheep and Goats

If you love someone very much then you feel their pain and their joy don’t you? When somebody hurts your children, then they hurt you. And when something good happens to your children, well, you share that as well. It’s as though whatever is done to them is also done to you.

Now, in the parable which we’ve just heard, Jesus said to some people who thought they didn’t know him; “Welcome, come in; whatever you did for my followers, for those whom I love, you’ve done for me”

But he also said to some people who thought that they did know him; “Off you go, I don’t know you. You neglected my friends, and that’s exactly the same as ill-treating me.”

What Jesus is saying is easier for us to understand when we think of how we are affected by the joy and the pain of someone whom we love. Jesus is so closely identified with his followers that their lives are one with his. And this remains the case today.

Now, some Christians try to tie Jesus down. They put him into a little box marked “Church. Only to be opened on Sundays”.

And some want to go even further than this. They want to claim that although Jesus is present in Church, he’s more fully present in a particular kind of church.

I know some Catholics who think they have a direct line to God in a way which the rest of us don’t. But I also know some Protestants who view the Roman Catholic Church as a place to avoid if you love the Lord. 

And of course, both groups of people have got it wrong, because God is much bigger than anything we could possibly imagine.

Do you really think we can ensure that God only reveals himself to a particular type of person? You know, to people who live fairly decent lives. Who as a rule don’t cheat and steal. People who follow the rules pretty much. People like us?

Or, do you really think that God will make himself known in only one particular way? So that unless your experience of Jesus conforms to a particular pattern, then, sorry, but you’re on the outside.

Well, I don’t believe that; because we can’t control the Holy Spirit.

And so, you see, we mustn’t try to lock Jesus up, or make him conform to our expectations. Christ will be present today in ways which are plain to see, but also in ways which are hidden.

Because He’s a God of love then we’ll be able to see Him very clearly in those who are sick, or poor. But, we’re all made in the image of God, and so we shouldn’t be surprised at his presence in people whom we might think are the most unlikely candidates.

And so we’ll find Him at work in those people whom we might normally choose to avoid. You see, today’s parable teaches that Jesus is made present through every good and loving action.   

There’ll be surprises when we leave this world. Think back to the parable. Many who said “Lord, Lord” were told they didn’t know Jesus. And many who said they didn’t know Jesus were actually quite surprised to be told that they did. They knew Him through their loving actions.

Now, you’re free to take today’s Gospel reading about the Last Judgement as literally as you like. But I think what Jesus is telling us here is that the most important thing, as far as God is concerned, is that we shall know him as we respond to each other in love.

I believe our judgement is actually taking place now, through every minute of our lives, and I think that a good way of looking at this judgement is to see it as a kind of “shaping” process.  What we finally become will be determined by the way in which we live our lives now, as they’re unfolding. Every loving action takes us closer to Jesus and every act of neglect separates us from Him.

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year, and we quite rightly celebrate it as the feast of Christ the King.  We joyfully acknowledge Christ as King.  We believe he’s enthroned as the King of heaven.  As King and God we pay him homage and worship him, but at the heart of the Kingdom is his mocking on the cross.

 Jesus stood the meaning of Kingship and the meaning of the Kingdom itself, on its head.  He celebrated with the wrong people, offered peace and hope to the wrong people, and warned the wrong people of God’s coming judgment. And it cost him his life.

Jesus was crucified because he was and is, the King of love.  This was his royal task.  This is what he came to do.  The mocking and the humiliation form the centre of what it all meant, and it’s the reason why the cross gives faith and hope to all Christians.  This is what it looks like when God’s love is acted out to the full.  This is how the Kingdom comes at last.  And his true royalty shines out in his prayer and his promise.  Traditionally, martyrs died cursing their executioners; Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.  Like a King on the way to his enthronement Jesus promised a place of honour to the thief who asked for it.

As Christians we have the enormous privilege of knowing that all of our puny efforts are united to the victory of God in Christ, and that this makes them acceptable to God in  a way which we can barely understand.

I think this is the basis for the Church’s teaching of a kind of healing for us, which will take place after we die. A time, if we can call it that, when we shall understand that we still have a little growing up to do before we can endure full exposure to the burning brightness of the Holy God.

 St. Paul says:

“Now we see a poor reflection as in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am known. And now these three remain; faith, hope and love But the greatest of these is love.” That’ll do for me. How about you?   Amen.