The Readings for the Sunday of the Last Judgement
HERE IS A PRECES of our parable: Jesus says at the Last Judgement God will divide us as a farmer does the sheep from the goats. The sheep will find out that they have often fed, clothed, and cared for Jesus. And they will say in all humility, No… we did not. And the goats will be told that they have never fed, clothed, or cared for Jesus. And they will say in self-justification, But we never had that chance: we would certainly have done so if you had shown up.
And then both groups will be told the punchline: when you did – or did not do – these things for the poor, the hungry, the homeless then you did – or did not do – these things for Jesus.
Then the sheep get into heaven and the goats go someplace where heaven is not, and the story ends.
Readers might have heard a sermon that goes something like this: Jesus never asks either the sheep or the goats if they’ve kept any religious rules. Did they’ve gone to mass, did they say their prayers? Jesus only asks if they have cared for the poor. Care for the poor matters, but Jesus doesn’t care about religious rules. A more subtle form of this sermon might conclude that people who care for the poor will get into heaven long before anyone else. Then it swerves off into “social justice” and trying to “build the city of God” here on this planet to “get ready” for the second coming.
However, this parable is not about ditching religious duty in favor of a crypto-Marxist reading of scripture.
In terms of animals following religious rules, a better example might be pigs. To be kosher an animal must have split hooves and chew its cud. Pigs have hooves that are split, but they do not chew the cud. You can’t see that, so if you look at a pig briefly you might think it’s Kosher on the outside… but it’s not. Horses chew the cud, as do rabbits. They have the right insides, but they have the wrong kind of external features. Rabbits not only chew the cud, but they are also cuddly. The inside counts as much as the outside. But this parable is NOT about following rules. Sheep and goats are both Kosher. They are both sacrificial animals. They both – unlike pigs, rabbits, or horses – follow all the rules: on the inside and on the outside.
You miss the point if you don’t catch this. Jesus is not talking about Marxist bunnies or Capitalist pigs here. This scene from the Last Judgment takes place after the pigs, rabbits, and horses have all been sent away already…
Both sheep and goats are goodly, clean things. Both are acceptable symbols for us, the religious folks. Follow all the rules. Do everything right. The sheep, however, follow through on the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
The goats fail to do so. The sheep realize that, beyond the law, there is love.
It is almost like Jesus saying to all the Good Sheep and the Good Goats…(Realized here that my “Jesus Voice” sounds like Bishop Barron….) “Oh, one last thing… you went to mass every day, you prayed every day, you never broke a commandment. Good. Good. All important, all needed….”
Did you get the point?
You can’t use this parable to say “there are no rules except care for the poor.” Love God AND love your neighbor. Do right by both. No one is saved by doing anything: but love and faith require doing to be real. There is something beyond the rules: your whole life must be changed into Christ.
There are no generous pigs here. There are, however, people who follow all the rules and do nothing important. (Rabbits are cute, though.)
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