Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord God. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.
As for you, my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.(P) The word of the Lord.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures He gives me repose. (R)
Beside restful waters He leads me, He refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name's sake. (R)
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (R)
Surely, goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples; "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 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, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 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 the least brothers of mine, you did for me.""
"Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.""
"Then they will answer and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?" He will answer them, "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me." And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
We learn from the Scriptures that the one great purpose of Jesus' coming to earth was to establish the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven for His people forever. This Kingdom is not a physical, earthly or geographical location which was at the fore of people's minds back then but a spiritual realm attained by walking in the Spirit of God and producing fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, compassion and holiness, Galatians (5:22-23). Jesus began to fulfil His mission by preaching about God's kingdom and by doing good works.
When the hearers, including His disciples, could not understand His message of the kingdom, He explained through parables what one must do to enter the Kingdom and what conditions will be like in it. Particularly, through The Beatitudes, Jesus taught of virtues and values in life that will result in entering God's kingdom and enjoying blessings and rewards, Matthew (5:1-12). He called those who would be a part of God's kingdom makarios in Greek, which corresponds to the Hebrew word asher and means "blessed," "happy", or fortunate". Furthermore, Jesus often stressed that such kingdom is "at hand", "within", "near", and "amidst" the people, Luke (17:21); Mark (1:15); Matthew (3:2, 4:17); Luke (10:9).
The parables that He told at the start of His ministry (in chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew), namely, the parable of the sower, the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price and the parable of the net were meant to exhort the hearers to choose the kingdom of God or risk the consequences of rejecting it. Whereas, the ones He used towards the end of His ministry (in chapter 25 of the gospel), were meant to describe the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God at the end of the age - which include the Second Coming or the Return of Christ, the final judgement plus eternal reward and punishment. It is in this context that Jesus narrated these three parables.
In the first parable, the parable of the ten virgins, we learned that we should not be caught like the foolish virgins, without oil in their lamps and unprepared, and as a result of which had to miss out on the anticipated celebration, Matthew (25:1-13). Instead, we must have our lamps trimmed and burning, like the wise virgins, i.e. be filled with the Spirit of God and led by Him as we prepare the way for our Lord's return.
In the second parable, the parable of the talents, we are told that the master returned from a long trip to see what his servants had done with the talents which they had been given before he left, Matthew (25:14-30). Two servants wisely and faithfully used their talents to make a profit, and both were rewarded accordingly. But the third servant didn't even try to use his talent. Because of this, it was taken away from him completely as a punishment.
Today we read the third parable - the parable of the sheep and the goats, Matthew (25:31-46). To understand this parable, we must know a bit about the nature and behaviour of sheep and goats. Those who grow up in towns and cities are perhaps at a disadvantage when it comes to fully understanding some of Jesus' metaphors or biblical parables, such as the parable of the sheep and the goats. But to people living in agrarian villages and shepherds, these concepts are easily understood, especially as shepherding was common in ancient Israel and Palestine.
Though sheep and goats are very similar looking, they are two different species. One big difference between sheep and goats is their behaviour. Goats are independent animals who don't need other goats or a shepherd around them to feel safe. They can survive and thrive just about anywhere. They do not require much supervision. For instance, if the shepherd takes a week of vacation, the goats can survive on their own without any help. They are unruly, headstrong, and aggressive. Most goats have horns. They use their horns to shove, rear, head-butt, bite or kick one another and even humans, to show dominance. They are motivated by their own desires and are known for being selfish. They have huge appetites, eating almost everything or whatever they find edible before them. They are browsers, which means they do not stand still, and eat grass to the roots; tend to wander when they eat; and nibble here and there. As they sample a variety of bushes and leaves, they leave very little for other animals to share.
Sheep, on the other hand, require so much care and help to stay alive. They like to stay together and within eyesight of each other. They are seen as non-violent, gentle and innocent. They are very trusting animals and easily led. They do not give their shepherds a lot of problems. They feel protected, confident and secure when their shepherd is around. They look to the shepherd for all their needs and will suffer with him. They have a strong tendency to become agitated and panic if they are separated from the rest of the flock.
Over all, goats are not evil, but some of their traits could be deadly. Some herders prefer sheep and others goats; yet some keep mixed flocks, even today in the Middle-East countries. The sheep and goats feed together during the day, but at certain times, it becomes necessary to separate the goats from the sheep because they have different needs. Goats are more susceptible to cold and so at night they have to be kept warmer than sheep. They are also separated at feeding time, to protect the sheep from the overbearing goats which tend to eat faster and aggressively dominate the troughs by pushing the sheep away with their horns.
Jesus used this imagery of sheep and goats to foretell a future time of judgement. First, He began by establishing its setting, telling them: "When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit down on his glorious throne", Matthew (25:31). There is no doubt, the one who is sitting on the throne is Jesus Himself because He often called Himself "the Son of man", Matthew (8:20, 9:6, 20:18, 28).
He had also already spoken that immediately after the tribulation, He would come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, with his angels, Matthew (24:29-31), and "all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them just as a shepherd separates his flock into two groups, sheep on one side and goats on the other. He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left", Matthew (25:31-33). He called the sheep "the blessed", and invited them to inherit the kingdom that had been prepared for them from the beginning of time. Although they were glad to receive such a wonderful inheritance, they were nevertheless confused. So, they asked what He meant. He told them that the reason for this reward was because of the way they had treated the Christ's needy brothers and sisters during their great tribulation, that is, when they were hungry, thirsty, impoverished, sick, naked and imprisoned.
By contrast, the King declared the goats "accursed" and consigned them to the eternal fire. They discovered to their astonishment that they would have to suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the kingdom of God because they had closed their eyes to the needs of the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ. They had opportunities to minister to the Lord through caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the prisoners; but, they failed to do.
What is the message for us?
First of all, there is a great potential for misunderstanding this parable if it is not viewed in conjunction with the entirety of Jesus' teaching and the whole truth of the scriptures. Some people tend to use this parable to argue that "belonging to God's kingdom" or "getting into heaven" is merely a matter of doing good works or being a good Samaritan, and not through worship and prayer, as these are regarded as totally unnecessary. Not so. I believe that worship and prayer are crucial to discern God's will and accomplish His work. Many of us can easily get discouraged and give up our usual exercise of good works because of lack of acknowledgement or rejection. Worship and prayer, therefore, can help us overcome this temptation and access God's grace so we can accomplish what He's calling us to do: that is, to keep on loving, forgiving, giving, healing others, seeking, listening and hoping in the Lord with a joyful heart, Romans (8:26).
Secondly, this parable is more than about God's handing the judgement upon us. It is rather about us - about you and me - and about the choices that we make in our lives. We can make choices that separate us from God and from others or we can make choices that bring us closer to God and others. It is our choice. No one can make for us the choice of heaven or hell but only ourselves.
Thirdly, the parable reminds us that we will be judged on love - our love for God and our love for others, particularly those in need.
Lastly, we learn that those who believe in Jesus and are faithful to Him until the end will certainly be rewarded; and those who reject Jesus, do not know Him nor want to know Him will be condemned to eternal punishment.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!