In the parable of the sheep and goats, we are told that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the nations will be gathered before him, and he’ll separate everybody from one another on his right and left, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Then he lists the things that landed them among either the sheep or the goats, and the interesting thing is the list is exactly the same, except team sheep did the things he listed and team goats did not.
The thing about goats is this: They don’t know they’re goats. They go about their daily lives thinking they know who they are and where they stand in God’s eyes. They go to church almost every week, and they remember to say a prayer when they need something. They give their old clothes to Planet Aid and might even put a few bucks in the big red kettle at the Holidays to, you know, help out the needy. But, they don’t get up close and personal with it. They don’t act as if their life depends on it. Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my father in heaven wants.” What God wants is for us to “love Him with all our hearts, our minds, our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.”
What makes us sheep or goats is whether or not we are willing to show kindness to the person on the street corner holding a cardboard sign, to buy them a “Happy Meal” or a bottle of water, or warm coat to wear when it’s below freezing outside. It’s whether or not we’re willing to stike up a conversation with someone we dont know, but looks like they could use a friend, and perhaps buy them a coffee, or whether we find time to spend with someone who is ill, diabled or in prison. It’s about our actions, about having compassion on those around us, about helping the poor schmuck lying in the ditch, robbed and half beaten to death, instead of passing by on the other side of the street, so we can feel justified in our inaction, because, you know, we don’t really need to get involved with all that drama anyway!
God lists the attributes that make us sheep in his eyes. He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner, not because he wants to show us how to save ourselves – His grace and His mercy are sufficient for our salvation – but because it’s what He would do. Lutheran theologian and Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away,” and it occurs to me that when we do these things, it’s not so much about loving those in need, but about loving God by our interactions with them. We do them to show God how much we love and care for Him, and in so doing, we automatically love our neighbor as ourselves.