“ BE A BIT SHEEPISH”
I want to start by saying at the end of what I have to say I want to make a strange and what might sound an unattractive offer. I want to invite you to be a bit sheepish, hopefully that invitation will make a bit more sense if we read and think about one of Jesus lesser known parables
The Sheep and the Goats: Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All 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. 33 He 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. 35 For 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, 36 I 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? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters 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. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I 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, ‘Truly I tell you, 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.”
One biblical scholar has said the parable we have just read is the least popular of all of Jesus’ parables. That is probably because it deals with a subject we would rather avoid, judgement and what it teaches is controversial because it seems to connect judgement with “good works” rather than “grace.”
The unpopularity of its main subject and the difficulty in understanding some of what it teaches has meant that Christians have all too often missed what Jesus clearly says about what his expectations for those who claim to be His authentic followers are.
Jesus says that His followers will be known for
• Providing emergency aid to those facing starvation and drought … “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink”
• Providing clothing and shelter for the destitute … “I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me”
• Providing care and treatment to the sick … “I was sick and you looked after me”
• Providing comfort to those facing injustice … “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Jesus calls these people in such dire need “the least of these” in other words, they are people at the bottom of society, the most vulnerable and marginalised people going through the most difficult of circumstances and he says those who claim Him as their King have a special responsibility to towards such people. There is no way to avoid the fact that Jesus teaches here that our heart and service towards the poor and marginalized reflect our heart and service to Him.
Jesus, in one sense, isn’t saying anything new or novel here, he is just restating and reinforcing the message of the Old Testament, that God’s People had to show a special care and compassion for those in need, the poorest people.
In fact, Isaiah summing up the whole of the OT, like Jesus, said that our claim to be God’s people is proven to be false if we don’t share our God’s special concern for those most in need
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden; like a spring whose waters never fail. — Isaiah 58:6-11
Ronald J. Sider, in his powerful book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger sums up the teaching of Scripture on this subject by saying,
“God's Word teaches a very hard, disturbing truth. Those who neglect the poor and the oppressed are really not God's people at all—no matter how frequently they practice their religious rituals nor how orthodox are their creeds and confessions.”
THE EARLY CHURCH
The earliest generations of Christians took the whole message of the Bible and especially Jesus’ teaching in this parable seriously. They really believed Jesus meant it when he said they were to have a special care for the most vulnerable and marginalised people around them.
They gained such reputation for care and compassion that the Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate, made this complaint about the Christians he despised but couldn’t help admiring because of their care for “the least of these” in his Empire. He complained of the Christians that “the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us..”
A good example of what Julian was talking about occured when a terrible plague hit the Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Maximinius II (303-313 AD). Eusebius, the earliest Christian historian, describes how the Christians responded to those affected by the plague “Then did the evidences of the universal zeal and piety of the Christians become manifest to all the heathen. For they alone in the midst of such ills showed their sympathy and humanity by their deeds. Every day some continued caring for the sick and burying the dead, for these multitudes had no one to care for them, others collected in one place those who were afflicted by famine, throughout the entire city and gave bread to them all”
This care and concern didn’t end with the early church. It’s always been there sometimes more clearly than others.
Here in Scotland in 1841 a group of doctors in Edinburgh were powerfully moved by the plight of those whom Jesus describes as the “least of these” and for whom the earliest Christians had shown such care and compassion. They were determined to do something for those in the world who had no access to healthcare and so they formed what was to become the “Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society”, which throughout its history has felt a special calling to those Jesus drew attention to in this unsettling parable, the most vulnerable and marginalised people facing the most difficult circumstances. Medical missionaries were trained in Edinburgh and sent all over the world, to obey Jesus’ calling in this parable and in other places, “to care for the sick”
Today EMMS International, as its now known, with its partners, continues to reach out to the “least of these” in some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in the world in India, Malawi and Nepal.
Our Vision, Mission and Values embody this special calling
• OUR VISION … A just world in which all people have access to good quality and dignified healthcare.
• OUR MISSION …. Following the example of Jesus Christ, we work with partners in some of the poorest communities of the world to transform lives through compassionate, effective and sustainable healthcare.
• OUR VALUES …. We are Faithful. Christian faith is at the heart of what we do: loving God and loving others. All we do is under pinned by respect, the value of all human life and the desire to bring love, compassion and hope to all people without exception.
Here are just some of the ways in 2015 we have been with our partners providing emergency aid to those facing starvation and drought, help to the destitute and care and compassion to sick and dying, in India, Malawi and Nepal, just as Jesus called us to do.
• 44, 2999 patients, families, community members and staff benefited from our fighting diseases projects
• 12,716 people were helped in times of national emergencies
• 3, 882 people received end of life care
• 23, 404 children under 5 were immunised and cared for
• 15, 401 babies were delivered safely
• 21 babies were born HIV free despite have HIV + parents
• In 2016 we raised approx. £100,000 for emergency food aid for those at risk because of the drought in Malawi
Called To Be Sheepish
As I said at the beginning I’d like to invite to be a bit sheepish, to live like a sheep, hopefully that invitation makes a bit more sense now, it’s not about impersonating a smelly farm yard animal but acting like sheep in the sense described by Jesus, that is, a person who shows special care and compassion for the “least of these” in the world, for the most marginalised and vulnerable people facing the deepest needs and most difficult circumstances.
Being “sheepish” according to Jesus, being a sheep in his understanding, is about caring for the people we saw in video in practical and compassionate ways. It’s about having that special care for those in the most need, those facing the most difficult circumstances.
Ronald Sider, who I quoted early also said “No one can do everything, everyone can do something and together we can change the world.”
Maybe the needs of the world seem overwhelming to you, you can’t see how you can make a difference with your resources, maybe you feel being “sheepish” in the Jesus sense is intimidating and beyond you. Well Ron Sider reminds us while we can’t do everything, we can’t change the world on our own, but if we’ll work together we make a tremendous impact on the world.
If you want to be sheepish, I want to ask you to consider working together with EMMS International to change the world for some of “the least of these” in India, Malawi and Nepal