Sheep and Goats
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats as today's Gospel on the Feast of Christ the King is an interesting choice both in itself, but also as in the overall context of judgement.
In the Parables preceding this one, the disciples are told, in their readiness, to prepare for the return if the Lord, using various images...for example, last week, the use of talents seems the most obvious.
Many protestants get uncomfortable with the Sheep and Goats Parable, because it emphasises the link of judgement almost wholeheartedly with 'works' with nothing at all being mentioned about salvation by graceful faith.
Indeed, some conservative scholars attempt to play down the whole story by suggesting it is very 'Matthean' in style, and therefore its link with the Lord may be very tenuous, and compared with the weight of other texts it is an 'exception'.
Well, I struggle with that conclusion, as I struggle with how it is arrived at!
I think there are more helpful ways of looking at this Parable.
Firstly, it is a Parable... and like many of the Parables in the New Testament we are forced to decide 'who' or 'what' we are in its timeless universal scenario.
What sort of soil are we at any one moment in The Parable of the Sower?
Which kind of Servant are we in the Parable of the Talents?
Which character are we most like in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?
The moments change as do our situations which therefore help us determine where we truly fit into these stories.
In this Parable of Judgement, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we are asked to decide what sort of 'animal' we are as Christians at any one time. There are only two to choose from, and the context suggests the answer has eternal repercussions.
In a very real sense, who we are is actually determined by ourselves in how we treat the disadvantaged. We come before the Lord as a sheep or as a goat already, and therefore we judge ourselves by the quality of how our faith is or has been expressed in the care of the needy in many and varied ways... a recurrent theme in Scripture.
Our faith needs to issue in self-giving works of love for that faith to be recognised as genuine.
These works seem to be second nature to the sheep, as they don't seem able to recall the specific examples mentioned.
The goats by contrast can't recollect their neglect!
Therefore, it is simply wrong to suggest that Christ the King from his throne arbitrarily judges folk in a way that reminds us of those countless medieval paintings which depict judgement in a rather graphic and fear provoking way.
Revd Canon Dr Stephen Foster
Here we judge ourselves before the Lord by how our faith is expressed, and his separation of one from the other is, in this story, the justifiable final reaction.