Lord, Help Me Not be a Goat!
Matthew 25: 31-46
April 25, 2010
by Anita Wansley
There is a story about a man named Wilbur. He owned a hardware store. He was a great manager of his store and the people in the town all knew of Wilbur’s store. One day after a long day of taking care of the store, Wilbur locked up and went home. He was tired and after supper went to bed.
In the middle of the night he heard a voice. “Wilbur! Wilbur!” He sat up. Was he dreaming? Again, “Wilbur! Wilbur!” So Wilbur answered, “Who are you, what do you want?”
“Wilbur, it is me, Jesus. I wanted to tell you that I am going to visit your store tomorrow.” Wow! Wilbur couldn’t believe it. Jesus visiting his store. He could hardly go back to sleep. He started thinking of all he would need to do to get ready!
He woke up early that morning. He remembered the voice from the night before and he just knew that it was real. Jesus was really visiting his store that day. He hurriedly ate his breakfast and went into the store. Oh, he got busy. He swept and mopped, wiped the counters, straightened the shelves. He was so busy getting ready. He also kept looking out the door to see if Jesus was on His way.
He unlocked the door at opening time and turned his sign to open. He looked up and down the street. Could it be true that Jesus was really going to visit his store today.
About mid-morning a young man walked in. He asked Wilbur about the job opening for his store that was listed in the paper. Wilbur thought of all he needed to do to get ready for Jesus and looked at the man. He told the man he had an important visitor coming today and he really didn’t have time for job interviews. The man persisted saying that he really needed a job. Wilbur finally told him he would have to come back tomorrow. He just couldn’t help him today. As the man left Wilbur looked at the clock and wondered when Jesus would be coming in. He was all ready for him.
At lunch time Wilbur decided to stay and eat his lunch at the counter so he wouldn’t miss Jesus coming in. He started in on his sandwich and the door opened. A woman and her young boy walked in. Wilbur said hello and kept eating his sandwich and started to open his bag of chips. The woman walked up and down the isles. When she came up to pay for her item the boy kept looking at Wilbur’s food. The woman tugged at him and gave him the look. Wilbur hurriedly checked them out watching out the door looking for Jesus to walk in.
It was close then to 3:00. Wilbur was starting to get irritated. He knew what he heard last night and still believed Jesus was gong to come to his store. He started to sweep again and wash the front windows. He heard the door open and he looked up in expectation…surely this had to be Jesus. Instead, a young woman walked in. She was coughing something awful. Great, said Wilbur…probably swine flu that was going around. He sure didn’t want that here on the day Jesus was coming to his store. He quickly went to the register and tapped his foot until the woman was ready to check out. She left and he went to wash his hands.
It was closing time. Wilbur went outside and looked up and down the street. No Jesus. He locked the door and went home. He was so discouraged. He had prepared. He had waited and watched. No Jesus. He went to bed.
As he slept he heard that voice again, “Wilbur! Wilbur!” He knew it was Jesus. He said, “Hey, Jesus, I thought that you were coming to my store this morning! I cleaned up, I waited. What happened?
Jesus said, “I did come to your store today.”
“No, really, Jesus, I was there all day, and I didn’t see you!
“Oh, Wilbur, yes, I did. Remember that man looking for a job? That was me. Remember that woman and her little boy? They were homeless, and he was hungry. That was me. Remember that woman who was coughing so bad? That was me. “
Wilbur fell to his knees and wept.
This story came from a skit that I did as a camp counselor a long time ago. This story is based on the passage of scripture in Matthew 25:31-46 and is commonly called the parable of the sheep and goats. This passage challenges us to examine our faith and see what fruit is being produced.
Read Matthew 25:31-46
What is this passage?
This passage is commonly referred to as a parable, but it is also a foretelling of what the judgment will be like. Here is Jesus seated on the throne with all the nations gathered before him. He is separating those who will be going on to eternal glory from those who will be going to eternal punishment. He uses the analogy of a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats.
This is not a popular or pleasant theme: this judgment. We don’t like to ponder the thought of those being condemned or anyone being judged. But this passage is clear. There will be judgment. What might be surprising is what the judgment is based on. In this trial-like scene the evidence upon which the judgment is made, is based on what actions of love and mercy one did for others. The judgment is not based on biblical knowledge, depth of faith, religious background, right beliefs, but rather on actions of mercy and love shown to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s look first at the those referred to as the sheep, the righteous ones being ushered into eternal glory:
Vs: 34-36 Jesus tells those on his right to come and take their inheritance for “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”
What is their response? Shock, surprise! What? When, Lord did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, in prison, or sick? When??
Vs: 40 Jesus goes on to tell them that whenever they did these things for the least of these brothers of his they did it unto him.
These people served their brothers and sisters in Christ and didn’t even know it. As William Barclay in his Bible commentary notes, “Those who helped did not think that they were helping Christ and thus piling up eternal merit: they helped because they couldn’t help themselves. It was the natural, instinctive, quite uncalculating reaction of the loving heart.”
They did it instinctively. They did it because they were so touched by Jesus that love flowed over into others’ lives. They did it because the spirit so flooded their lives they couldn’t help themselves. They did for no credit of their own. They just did it. They cared for others with acts of mercy and love and in doing so cared for the very Jesus they loved and followed.
Now for the other group: the goats. Let’s look at those who didn’t receive an inheritance but rather eternal fire:
Vs: 41-43 Jesus says to those on his left, “Depart from me…”
These people respond with (and this is how I imagine their response being) “but Lord, we didn’t know… but Lord, when did we see you hungry, naked, sick, etc. … but Lord, if we had known it was you, we surely would have taken care of you! But, Lord!!!”
These people would have done these acts of mercy and love. If they had known in their heads who was actually in need then they would have acted. Maybe they were really saying, “Lord, if we had known this was what you were going to base your judgment on, then we would have acted.”
These poor goats were being judged on things they didn’t do and not things they did. They were not being thrown into eternal fire for major acts of sin. They were being thrown into the fire for neglecting to live out their faith. They were being thrown into the fire for being passive, selfish, living for their own sake and in their narrow view of the world. They failed to let their faith so consume them that it would have been natural for it to spill over to others.
They might have professed their faith. But as Clair Crissey states, “Mere profession of belief that does not lead to active love and concern for others is useless and insincere. Those who received punishment were those who let their concern for themselves blot out compassion for others.”
So what does this passage say to us?
1. Let me just say that it would seem that this is a good lesson so soon after Easter. I often like to ask the question “so what” and today’s message begs the question of now what.
First things first…We are forgiven and saved by the amazing act of love that Jesus did for us on the cross. Our profession of Christ and the acceptance of his forgiveness for our sins is what saves us.
As David Couchman, in a sermon on this passage, says, “The thief on the cross was saved by his faith alone. He didn’t have time for any good works. But the Bible is also clear that if we have really trusted Christ, this will make a difference to how we live. If our lives don’t show our faith, we have to ask just how real is that faith?”
So there is the “now what” part for after Easter. Jesus died on the cross, then conquered death and rose again, offering us the amazing gift of salvation. Many of us have claimed that salvation and experienced the amazing grace that flows out of that. Now what…
Let’s look at James 2:14-18:
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “go, I wish you well: keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith: I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
David Couchman in his sermon goes on to say, “If you are relying on your faith in Jesus to save you on judgment day but you are carrying on living the same kinds of selfish life as the people around you who don’t believe in him, watch out. Watch out.” This passage today doesn’t give you reassurance of your place in eternity.
Hang on…there is more that he says…and I think he has stated this “now what” part the best: “Good works aren’t the reason we’re saved: but they are the evidence that we’re saved… if you were put on trial for being a believer, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
He has some challenging words based on this passage.
What else does this mean for us?
2. This passage is clear that the “sheep” did these acts of love and mercy to “the least of these brothers of mine.” Sometimes we stop with the “least of these.” It might be easier to do a kind act to a homeless person, or a stranger, but what about our brothers and sisters in Christ?
This passage includes the phrase “least of these brothers of mine.” Jesus is referring to fellow believers. How is our faith spilling out in acts of love and mercy to our fellow believers? What about our fellow believers right here in this room? What about our fellow believers all over this town in different denominations, of different races, with different financial resources? What about our fellow believers in this nation or all over the world? Did you notice the map on the church bulletin board of the numbers of Mennonites around the world? This passage refers to the least of these brothers of mine. That opens up the door for a whole lot of people!
3. Furthermore, what about those needs of the least of these brothers and sisters that aren’t as obvious? Oh, of course, if someone in this congregation didn’t have food, we would give them food off our own shelves. If there was someone here today that was sick, we would make them meals and take care of their children. But if we are caught up in our own selfish issues, then we will fail to notice the needs of others that aren’t as obvious.
I imagine that this passage today might include some of the following in the list of acts of love and mercy… “I was discouraged and you sent me an encouraging email, I was confused and you only sent positive text messages to me, I was out of work and you helped me cover my bills, I was on the outside of the group and you made me feel accepted, I was an addict and you invited me to your home, I was different from you economically, socially, racially, and you befriended me and showed me respect…”
It would seem that we might say that we haven’t seen anyone naked who needed clothes or we just don’t know anyone in prison. Well, I wonder about the people who feel the shame of having to wear dirty, tattered clothes as they walk to Love’s Kitchen. I wonder about the persons who feel the prison of depression. I wonder about the people we run into everyday that need to have someone look into their eyes and be greeted. I wonder about the people we talk to, email, text message, work with, live with right now that need our faith to spill out to them in love and mercy.
This passage is about judgment…real judgment, eternal judgment. So we might feel the attitude of, “Oh, no, there is going to be judgment…I better get busy doing good to others…let me see what I can do…oh, dear, I should have brought 20 cans of food today instead of the 5 I brought…”
Rather, I believe our challenge should be to have the attitude: “Oh, yes, there will be judgment by the one who loves me so dearly he died for me. I want to be in such intimate relationship with Jesus that His spirit invades my mind, my heart, and my soul. I want the fruits of His spirit to then pour out unto others in such a way that is beyond my control. I want that spirit that is within prompting me to serve others and in turn serve Christ himself.”
Help me not be like Wilbur and miss you every day in the people I meet. Lord, help me not be a goat. May I be a sheep who acts in uncalculating love every day!