sheep and goats
The old Story retold every year by the Church always starts with the deep longing of human beings, and it tugs at the few threads of hope within us that hint that someday light will stream into the darkness. The Story is summed up on this day, Reign of Christ Sunday, by celebrating that the Light indeed has come into the world and it will reign forevermore.
But next week we head back into the beginning of the cycle of the church calendar year. We begin our longing and waiting again. It truly seems that Christ does not yet reign because I read stories like this one (please read) from the Congo which tells of utter hell as rape is used as a weapon of terror, decimating hundreds of thousands of female souls by those who are already robbed of their own. My longing becomes anguish as the wait for Light feels unbearable. As Jean Vanier says, in our celebrations there is always a note of sadness:
“Celebration is being a eucharistic people who sing their thanks because they have been called together as one people in order to bring life to others . . . Because we have been called together, we are a people of celebration; but in our celebrations there is always a note of sadness because not all the people in our world are celebrating . . . Many people are lonely and in pain . . . We have been drawn together by God to be a sign of the resurrection and a sign of unity in this world, where there is so much division and inner and outer death. We feel small and weak, but we are gathered together to signify the power of God who transforms death into life. That is our hope, that God is doing the impossible: changing death to life inside each of us, and that perhaps, through our community, each one of us can be agents in the world of this transformation of brokenness into wholeness, and of death into life.
~Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community
What do agents of transformation look like? In Matthew 25:31-46 we find a brief story about sheep and goats. The sheep serve the Light as they see someone in need – hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, alone, forgotten – and care for them. They are surprised to learn that in doing this they are serving Christ Himself. “That was you, Lord?” they stutter, “Seriously?” They show no awareness of being seen and getting credit for what they did. This goes deeper than obedience; the compassion and generosity of God lived deep within them, bubbling out as naturally as a spring of fresh water. The goats on the other hand, were not criticized for doing wrong things but for doing nothing at all. (Perhaps the goats were busted for their dualism – thinking God only sees or is present in certain places but not others, especially people or places that look a tad unsavory…).
These sheep teach us to walk in step with the true and subversive Reign of Christ. They teach us that the Story is active, not passive within us, reshaping the awful structures of the world that maim and destroy. It seems that these sheep swallowed the Story whole and it has become part of them, nourishing their inner being with food that is not from this world. From that food comes deeper, truer longings within our souls that are for God and from God and can birth transformed hearts that beat in rhythm to the longings of a hurting world. Agents of transformation are fountains of Living Water that gush forth naturally because that’s what fountains do. So as we enter again into what seems like endless cycles of longing and waiting, we bear the time attentive, active and together, until the cycles finally end and Christ is revealed – and the Sheep will see that He has been here all along. I think the goats will too. Christ reigns now and forever more, Amen.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in
heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”