Parable Of The Sheep And The Goats
February 18, 2013
The parable of the Sheep and the Goats – also called ‘The Last Judgment’ – comes together with other parables of the Endtime, like the Ten Talents, or the Ten Foolish Bridesmaids. All these teachings have one purpose: to inculcate in the disciples a sense of vigilance and fidelity to the task.
The scene depicted would be familiar to Jesus’s hearers: a shepherd sorting out his flock before moving them on to other pastures. Jesus is presented as ‘king’, and the nations of the world are gathered before him, awaiting his blessing or his judgment.
The parable of the Sheep and the Goats presents the core of the ethical teaching of Jesus: the love of God is shown in love of one’s neighbour. Never mind if the disciple fails in his duty to God (“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, and did nothing for
you?”), so long as he reaches out and cares for his neighbour. In other words, Christian love has a practical and active component expressed in the care for those in need.
The passage has nothing about our duties towards God. We are not judged on that. The passage doesn’t even consider the obligations society imposes on its members towards each other. In fact, the parable speaks not of duties, but of things we are not accustomed to consider as necessary – the claims of those in need. Jesus identifies himself with such, and says that reaching out to the needy is reaching out to him.
In the last discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel, Jesus stresses his identity with men as the basis of love. In this last discourse of Jesus in Matthew, there is a similarity: in the last analysis, it is love which determines whether men are good or bad. If their love is active and shown in care and concern for each other, other failings will be rare and forgiven. But there is no substitute for active love.
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