Reflection on today’s Reading – Matthew 25: 31-46
This passage is normally known as the “sheep and the goats” but this is just a simple analogy – at night the shepherd would separate out the sheep from the goats in his mixed flock. The vivid image is simply to tell us that God will also separate out the nations, as it were some to his left and some to his right. This is Jesus coming again in glory for the whole world.
Why and who? Well, one thing we note is that in both groups there is surprise. There are people who thought they were in the good group who ask when was it that they failed to give the King water or other help. Jesus is clear it was when they failed to give it to the poor and needy.
There was a strand in Jewish thinking which already broadly taught this: –
‘My children, when you gave food to the poor I counted it as though you had given it to me.’
This passage sometimes gets caught up in the debate about whether salvation is by faith or good works. Some argue that the thirsty and hungry are restricted to thirsty and hungry Christians.
But the logic and force of Matthew’s Gospel has always been to say that faith must be seen in action. We should hear the Word AND act on it. “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only!” says Jesus, and here at the end of Jesus teaching. this is made very clear and in the same vivid language that Jesus has used many times.
We remember that Jesus’s teaching in Matthew begins with “Blessed are the poor” and his teaching ends with the truth that those who help the poor find blessing. It is not social action without speaking of our faith. Rather it is speaking of our faith from the integrity of our social concern.
“Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.
Good works are good, and everyone is capable of good works and many who are not Christians put us to shame with their endeavours. Goodness is not restricted to Christians – we all have the capacity for goodness. This passage is challenging the disciples / the new Christians who read the gospel to make sure that their faith leads to practical acts of mercy and goodness, to bear good fruit, it is not making a theological statement about what happens in judgement to non-believers.
‘Stir up we beseech thee ..’ . We pray that we would be stirred up to good works, acts of kindness to the lonely, acts of generosity to the needy, acts of mercy to the “unlovely”.
As we celebrate “Christ the King” we are reminded that the King is found among the poorest; may we hear his invitation and his call to meet Him there, lest we later hear his judgement on our lack of concern.
A challenging end to a challenging set of teaching, but then being a disciple of Jesus is a challenge!
Rev’d Peter Reiss: 13th Nov 2020