There is a wonderful children’s song that I know we’ve sung at least once here at RLC: “I Just Wanna Be a Sheep!” And it has fun verses about Pharisees and Sadducees and Canaanites, hypocrites, and of course, goats! As the verse says, “goats ain’t got no hope, I just want to be a sheep. Baa, baa, baa, baa!
The appointed text for this past Sunday was the parable about sheep and goats and how they get separated one from another and that the sheep go into eternal life and the goats go to, well, hell for not being nice to their neighbor.
Who wants to be a goat – old or otherwise – especially if this is what is going to happen to them? Don’t we all just “wanna be a sheep!”
It’s interesting that neither the goats nor the sheep knew what they were doing – or not doing, as was the case. They were just going about their business and being sheep and goats. Being what God made them, being them.
Now this is a parable – the last parable that Jesus shares with disciples – happens right before he predicts his death again, institutes the Lord’s Supper and heads to the cross. And let’s face it, the cross is not a place where someone would go looking for a king in his glory!
This parable has such a strange twist. Those sheep had no idea that what they were doing was really great stuff, like being nice to the stranger, visiting people in prison, giving people clothing! In fact they were really surprised and asked, when, when did you see when we did all this great stuff?
I would imagine the goats – who were neither bad nor evil — I’m sure, were saying, well, shoot if we’d known it was YOU…
We would have fed you, given you something to drink, welcomed you, gave you something to wear, gave you chicken noodle soup because you weren’t feeling good and we would have come to you in the homeless squatters’ camps under the overpass or made sure that we saw you on EVERY visitation day at the county lock-up.
Who looks for a king in his glory in prison, under a bridge, on a street corner holding a sign?
And the goats were sent into the eternal fire with the devil and his posse, saying but we didn’t see you! Maybe this parable is all about perspective!
One of the things that both the sheep and goats didn’t understand was when they saw Jesus. The sheep’s eyes weren’t any more open than the goats – they had to ask “when” as well!
And this judgement –harsh judgement parable, which is the last one shared before Jesus goes to the cross, what are we to make of it?
Lord, PLEASE, I just wanna be a sheep even though I may look like an old goat!
Jesus begins the parable by saying, “When all the nations are gathered before the king… Ah, maybe we’re off the hook here! There just might be some hope for this old goat!!
There is speculation among some biblical scholars that because Jesus says “all the nations” that he is referring to the Gentiles. That it is the Gentiles who are under judgement in 1st century Palestine and NOT the Jews or Jewish Christians.
In other words, “the other” and how THEY respond to the least, the last, the lonely, and the left behind.
The author of Matthew is writing during the persecution of the church at the hand of the Roman authorities – about the last quarter of the first century. Perhaps this gets written down for the Matthean community to assure them in their darkest hour that God has got their back.
And just when we think we don’t have to pay attention, the gospel reaches out and pinches – HARD!
When you think about this parable in light of the entire gospel of Matthew, there a few things to remember. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is Jesus attitude toward enemies – you are to love them, no matter what.
Even if they are your persecutors. Even if they are trying to kill you.
And rather than looking at those outside of the church as “other”, we are to SEE them, just as Jesus SEES them – because the grace of Jesus and the love of God extends to them – the least, lost, lonely, left behind as well.
As a colleague states: There are so many ways to be in this world but Christ’s kingdom, Christ’s reign is totally opposite. Christ challenges empire, calls out injustice and abuse, sees the least, lost, lonely and left behind. Christ always see the neighbor in need – whether we might have considered them a neighbor or not.
Moreover we are to live as if the kingdom exists here and now, because it does. And living like it is means we live as if that makes a difference in our lives because the world needs us to do this and that it matters. We see those that the world ignores and prefers not to see. We are to see like Jesus see. And more over, we are to love like Jesus loves as we..
Perhaps that is where the truth lies in this parable. Our children’s sermon song asked the question, “who’s the king of me?” Jesus!
And it is this royal figure that hangs out with the least, last, lonely and left behind.
And, just like the sheep and goats found out: this is the God of surprises!
Yes, God is all powerful. Yes, God is all knowing. Yes, God is the creator of all.
But see where Jesus invites us to be met by God.
Not on a throne. But in a manger, in the form of a helpless newborn.
Not on the battlefield, but on a cross.
God so loves the world, that God decided to hang out with us.
Christ reigns in us, in our lives. God is with us, Emmanuel! Right here in the waters of baptism, right here in the bread and the wine. Right here in this fellowship of broken people we call church.
God shows up where we least expect God to be: in those who are overlooked by society, in the faces of the least, last, lonely, left behind; in the acts of mercy and service we offer. In the acts of mercy and service that are offered to us.
And we meet God as we seek to serve as Christ served, and that might mean serving an enemy.
We might not be looking for God, but God is looking for us and he sees us and shows up in places where we least expect God to be or want God to be.
God shows up where we need for God to be. In the face of the “other”, in the face of our neighbor. In the face of the least, the last, the lonely and the left behind.
Even if I’m an old goat!