Matthew 25: 31-46
Sheep or Goat?

This is the last Sunday of this church year, the last Sunday before Advent starts, and it is known as the Reign of Christ

Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday. Our gospel reading from Matthew reflects the Kingship of Christ—the son of Man

coming in his glory, surrounded by angels, sitting on the throne of his glory. Now, Matthew wrote his gospel to explain the teachings of Jesus to a mostly Jewish audience. So Matthew naturally would use images from the Hebrew

Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, so as to put Jesus into a frame of reference his readers could understand.Jesus used the term ‘Son of Man’ to describe himself. By saying the Son of Man coming in his glory, Matthew is harkening his readers to an image from the book of Daniel (7: 13-14):


I saw one like the son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was

presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and

languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.


If there was any question in the mind of anyone who reads Matthew as to whom Jesus was, well this should definitely

clear that up for them. The reference to a throne clearly brings an image of Kingship, Jesus as King, one given the full

authority of God, the Ancient One, over the eternal realm—over all the nations. And one of the roles of the ancient

kings was that of judge, mediating and judging the people of their realm according to the law.


Matthew in this same story also draws upon another ancient image of God, that of shepherd. The shepherd was

responsible for the total care of their animals. In biblical times, and even in some places in the world still today, it’s not uncommon for sheep and goats to be pastured together. Although they are different in nature and temperament, their

nutritional needs are comparable, and their care not so dissimilar. But at key times, it would be necessary to care for them apart from the other, so they would need to be separated. The agriculturally based people of Jesus’ time would have understood this instinctively.


So, all the nations have come together—and when Matthew uses the term ‘nations’, this in effect means all people,

including non-Christians[1] -- the entire group is together and it is time to separate the flock from the herd, the followers

of Christ from the non-believers. Some commentators see this story written as a reassurance for Matthew’s

community, that those who persecuted them would be called to justice. Others see this as a call to justice for all of us. However you choose to see it, what is definitive is what it is the determination of who’s a sheep and who’s a goat.

Jesus is very clear, it was how they responded to the Son of Man when he was in need, when he was hungry or thirsty, inneed of hospitality, improperly clothed, or was in prison.


Firstly, both groups are surprised when Jesus confronts them with why they’re being separated. Neither group can

recall seeing Jesus in such desperate need, and both ask him the same question: “Lord when was it that we saw you

hungry or thirsty or saw you as the stranger or naked?”


The sheep, the group on Jesus’ right hand, saw the neediness of others, and responded with love and compassion to those in need, as Jesus responded to those whom he saw who were in need. The sheep were doing the work of the Kingdom, bringing the care of shepherd to the lowliest of people—the least of these Jesus calls them. They were bringing the compassion of Christ to those whom others don’t see, or worse yet, choose not to see.


And the other group on the left, the goats? They saw the hungry, the poor, the sick, the unwelcomed—they admit they saw “the least” of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and did nothing, they chose not to respond.


And the second surprise was Jesus’ answer to the question both groups posed to him: “So, just where were you Lord?”

Neither group saw Jesus’ presence in those who were hurting, hungry, lonely, cold, imprisoned, they couldn’t imagine finding Jesus among those who were without, among those in need. Most certainly they were not expecting to see that it is Jesus himself who is in need, to see it is Jesus who needs us! “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (vs 40)


The sheep were bringing the kingdom of God near—and they didn’t know how near the kingdom was to them, because they didn’t realize the King, Jesus, was right in the middle of it all. They didn’t see that when they were ministering to the least of their brothers and sisters, that they were in fact serving Jesus, serving Christ. I wonder, might the folks on the left have responded differently, do you think, if they’d known that Jesus was one of those strangers, or one of those who was hungry, poor or cold?


And here’s the check in for us, how are we responding? Where do you see Jesus, or miss seeing him? Are you aware

that when we minister to those in need, we are ministering to Jesus? Yes, Christ is King, but Jesus is also the lowliest of

peasants, another one of those paradoxes of our faith that can be difficult to wrap your head around when you first

consider it.


We are all of God. Within each of us is a wee bit of our Creator God, a wee bit of Christ, the Christ who was there with God at the time of creation. We who were created in God’s image, we are brothers and sisters of Christ. There is in each of us that spark, the light of Christ—call it your soul or your spirit—it’s that part of us that is eternal, it’s that part of Christ that all of humanity shares. When we see another suffering, do we connect with the compassion of knowing that the one who suffers is a brother or sister? So when they hurt, it’s like we are all are hurting, and Christ feels that as intently as the one who is hurting, if not more so. If your child, or someone else who you truly love deeply, if they are not well, whether that’s physical or emotional or spiritual pain, do you not feel their pain deep within your own self?


We are all one, we are all connected by that universal spark. But we can choose to deny that connection, choose not to

see, to divorce ourselves from it, and choose keep ourselves above the fray, as it were. “’Truly I tell you, just as you did

not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (v 45)


Our brother Christ is not the kind of king who keeps himself above the people, just sitting upon the royal throne passing

judgment. Our king is the one who chose to become a man and walk among his brothers and sisters, especially those

who are in need, who is there among those whom others ignore, those who are in need, even if we don’t recognize him or realize he is there. Although we don’t see him in body anymore, Christ is still present to all of us! When we’re

hurting, sick in body, mind or spirit, or feeling alone or abandoned, know that you are not alone, Christ is with you, in your pain, your anxiety, your depression, your fear. Hold onto that, take solace and strength from that belief.


So, today we say goodbye to the gospel of Matthew, we start a new liturgical year next Sunday focusing on Mark’s

gospel. We could have called this past year the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ year, as we’ve heard many of the thirty-one

references in which Matthew describes what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. The kingdom is like treasure or a merchant

in search of pearls. So it is precious and to be sought after. And who is the kingdom for? Remember the beatitudes? –

the Kingdom is for those poor in spirit, for the righteous, the persecuted. And the Kingdom is for those who are like

children, humble and trusting in Jesus’ ways. The Kingdom is like a mustard seed, and yeast. It can be compared to a

field of wheat just sown – the Kingdom is organic, active, growing, alive. And we are called to be workers in the

Kingdom, to live out our calling as followers of Christ. We can choose to take an active role in working the fields, tending ‘the plants and ministering to Jesus.


Which leaves us all with a question to answer: Are you a sheep or a goat?


[1] Mark Douglas in ‘Theological Perspective for Matthew 25: 31-46’ Feasting on the Word Year A Vol. 4

(WJK Press: Louisville:KY) 2011. 334