By James E. Copple
The Church is a relationship to something bigger and greater than an individual and a people, and that’s true across denominations and even for the un-churched. For me, it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, one that has taken me to the White House and 30 governor’s mansions. It has meant professional meetings with eight different presidents, and it has led me to some of the worst slums of Kenya, India, New York and Bolivia.
In each place, Matthew 25 and the parable of the “Sheep and the Goats” has been a compelling and motivating force in my life and actions. Even so, I have failed miserably and failed often.
I am saddened when any faith community elevates its own theological shibboleths above the simple actions of feeding the hungry; providing water to the thirsty; welcoming strangers; clothing the unclothed; visiting the sick; and calling on the imprisoned. It’s clear to me this is the mandate if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God. It isn’t some simple social-justice diatribe but a proclamation of our inheritance.
We don’t inherit the Kingdom of God. We become “goat people” when we elevate our views of compassion that would put narrowly focused and narcissistic programs above the tangible actions of caring for the poor, the estranged or the imprisoned. When the Son of Man returns in His glory, it isn’t about whether you grew the Sunday school; won thousands through Jesus Films; or increased offerings. The question is, did you do these things and what price were you willing to pay?
Since I was 15 years old, I have believed in personal evangelism – I believe we must tell the story of the freedom and grace given to us in Jesus Christ. However, those efforts don’t trump our actions that set the stage for separation of sheep and goats. I can’t pass a single homeless man on the street and then rejoice in robust attendance at Sunday services.
We are given a “by all means,” save some theology I Corinthians 9:22 (To the weak, I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some).
We go where others don’t go; we work with those others shun, ignore, refuse or overlook; and we collaborate and partner to achieve the mission to reach the poorest-of-the-poor with acts of compassion and justice. Our churches can’t be islands of righteousness without building bridges – bridges to the weak and disenfranchised. Without apology, I embrace, emphasize, and lift-up this parable. We need to get over ourselves and decide where we will stand – sheep or goats. It’s clear to me what our choice must be.
The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right 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; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
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