Sheep and goats.
I don’t know what the problem is with goats. Nice animals, and innocent. Like snakes, but there’s a cultural thing about that, eh?
This reading below pops up in our Sunday Lectionary every three years, bringing the curtain down on the year of Matthew. It is also an option for ministers who care for people who are sick and dying.
This is the conclusion of Jesus’ fifth “discourse” in the first Gospel. (The first was the Sermon on the Mount, as you know.) The twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew addresses the end times. We can think of the eschaton, but like so much of the Bible, there’s a multivalence here that can apply to more than just some far-distant conclusion to the universe and the Last Judgment of the King. It’s also about the Lord’s call to each believer at the end of life. A person who reflects on her or his immanent death, might find something here. Hopefully not just guilt or smug confidence. But a Christian calling, at any time, in any age.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you,
whatever you did
for one of these least (sisters and) brothers of mine,
you did for me.’
This reading’s not for everyone. I can imagine a well-intentioned believer fussing and fretting about how they’ve missed Jesus in a lifetime. From a sickbed, how can you feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit prisoners, and such? Few enough of us can bequeath inheritances to food pantries or jail ministries or refugee resettlement programs.
Perhaps the Lord asks, “What can you do? What are you willing to do?” Perhaps a loved one is starving for attention, thirsty for love, imprisoned by family dysfunction, or something. On our dying bed, can we do some seemingly small thing? Even if it is distasteful?
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.