This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
31 When the Son of Man has come in his glory and all the angels with him, then he ‘will take his seat on his throne of glory’; 32 and all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people — just as a shepherd separates sheep from goats — 33 placing the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, enter into possession of the kingdom prepared for you ever since the beginning of the world. 35 For, when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger, you took me to your homes; 36 when I was naked, you clothed me; when I fell ill, you visited me; and when I was in prison, you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you? Or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger, and take you to our homes? Or naked, and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill, or in prison, and come to you?’ 40 And the king will reply ‘I tell you, as often as you did it to one of these my brothers or sisters, however unimportant they seemed, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those on his left ‘Go from my presence, accursed, into the ‘permanent fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’ 42 For, when I was hungry, you gave me no food; when I was thirsty, you gave me no drink; 43 when I was a stranger, you did not take me to your homes; when I was naked, you did not clothe me; and, when I was ill and in prison, you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they, in their turn, will answer ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or ill, or in prison, and did not supply your wants?’ 45 And then he will reply ‘I tell you, as often as you failed to do it to one of these, however unimportant, you failed to do it to me.’ 46 And these last will go away ‘into lasting correction,’ but the righteous ‘into lasting life.’”
The Son of Man is Jesus as representative of the “holy ones of God” who will rule the world on God’s behalf.
There are many subtle points which scholars have made about this passage, but it’s vital not to miss the main message. In fact we might say of this parable of Jesus, as Glaswegians say of any spiky character, “he disnae miss.”
Matthew has put in place a great build up in which the coming of the Son of Man (the rule of God’s holy ones) is prophesied. Now this parable pictures that day and tells the reader that the majesty on high will judge every nation according to how it has treated the least important brothers and sisters, namely the poor who are hungry and thirsty and lack clothing, the homeless foreigner, the sick, the political prisoner. In fact the Son of Man identifies with these unimportant people; in the time before he comes to power, he can be found in them.
And in case the reader thinks this is just a piece of rhetoric, Matthew goes on to show exactly how Jesus, the representative Son of Man, does in sober reality identify himself with such people as he becomes a political prisoner (a suspect terrorist, probably radicalised by holy scripture) a victim of torture, a tattered body on a cross. Jesus’ fierce indentification with the world’s victims and his advocacy on their behalf is not at all separate from his sacrificial death for sinners. His death makes brothers and sisters of those whom the world calls sinners, while exposing the sinfulness of those who have stigmatised and neglected such unimportant people. To all, Jesus offers saving justice, that is, an advance of trust to all who want to change. At the last, however, societies will be judged by the facts of their own treatment of the non-persons in their midst. I think that the line separating sheep from goat runs through the lives of individual people, like me. If so, I have to learn to consign my ungenerous self to the flames in order that my generous self may live.
The Open Engish Bible translation which I’ve used, adds quotation marks to Jesus’ phrases about punishment There is no indication of this in the Greek, although it may be a good guess that such phrases are not original to Jesus. If so, that would suggest that Jesus was not particularly concerned with the precse meaning of them. The “goats” will be punished; the “sheep” will be rewarded. The fact the reward is life should leave us in no doubt about the punishment.(I can find no good reason for the translation of the Greek “kolasis” = legal punishment as “correction” above v46)
My nation will shortly hold a referendum as to whether it wants to be an independent state. Many of those who vote for independence will do so because they want the chance to construct a more just and compassionate society. This parable of Jesus is a political argument suggesting that if those who come to power identify with the least important of their brothers and sisters, they will not go far wrong.