31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “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.”
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
45 Then he will answer them, “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.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Jesus’s parables were often set in a context familiar to his listeners. This story of the sheep and the goats would have been easily understood by the crowd gathered round him.
A couple of years ago I was on holiday in Morocco. We’d been on a camel ride and were relaxing after in a Bedouin tent, drinking mint tea.
The big tent opened out onto a courtyard, and whilst we were there, as it was starting to be late afternoon, a loud, noisy mixed herd of sheep and goats flooded into the homestead.
They were all jumbled up together, having been out on the savannah. But as they came in, without direction or order, they automatically and naturally separated off into two groups: one of sheep and one of goats. Each creature knew which was its trough and water, and split off, without exception to their respective sides.
Advent includes this theme of judgement, as we are preparing not just for Christmas but Second Coming. This stark story, indicates it will be clear who followed Jesus, and who did not. I wonder, if like the sheep and goats I saw in Morocco, if we do not actually know, deep in our heart of hearts, which side we are on? We know if we follow Jesus, we know if we have accepted the truth, we know if we love God and seek to honour him in our lives.
This is not to say anyone is either 100% good, or 100% bad. There will be times we have helped others, and times we have not. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness. But I suspect we also know deep down, whether or not we have opened our hearts to that grace, whether we ask God to guide us to make those loving decisions, or if we actually don’t take it that seriously and haven’t let our lives be changed by knowing Jesus.
How can we know? How can we grow to be more loving and sharing of what we have? Opening our hearts and minds to God can start right here. Engaging this Advent in these Maranatha reflections, is exactly the sort of thing that is the kind of practice that if we develop it, shapes our souls and helps us to see with the eyes of love, the eyes of God.
Help us to know you, to be your sheep. Shape us, mould us, form our hearts to see as you do. Encourage us and inspire us to see how we can give of what we have, use our talents, use what is in our storehouses, to share with others and tend to those in need.
In your precious name we pray,