Summary: A perspective on Matthew 25: 31-46. The good news continues when Jesus will remove all oppression in our life by removing the goat from our presence.
Matthew 25: 31-46
Hope in suffering
Many editors of Bibles and commentaries subtitle our Gospel text as, ‘The judgement.’ They focus on judgement portrayed by the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the self-righteous, and the good from the bad. Our Gospel text does indeed speak to us about judgement, but Jesus’ intention was not so much to focus on judgement as to provide hope in a situation of despair. Therefore, our theme for today is, ‘Hope in suffering.’
With a little bit of background knowledge we can begin to see how this text can be one of hope rather than one of judgement. Through the 25 chapters, Matthew tells about the life of Jesus and the life he gave to the people around him. There are only a further three chapters that describe the trial and condemnation of Jesus, his death and resurrection. The drama climaxes with the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus knows that his death is soon upon him, the end is near. Our text uses suitable dramatic language to help impart the conclusion of a farewell speech addressed to His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his coming absence and finishes with this parable of hope. Jesus is about to face crucifixion and death, and yet he puts his own feelings aside to consider the well being of his disciples.
We are also His disciples. Jesus is speaking to the Church, to the Christian, to you and me. Jesus is speaking to our own hopes and dreams in a time of despair and suffering. For some of us here today it maybe a message of comfort for another time.
Jerusalem once again is occupied by a foreign power. Rome is in control and is considered by many Israelites as the enemy. The term goat has been used figuratively to describe a leader. Rome is now the leader in Jerusalem. Their self-righteous behaviour has not found favour with many people. It is often the case with self-righteous behaviour, it tends to walk over other people and not care for them. The disciples, like many other Israelites feel the oppression and dream of a day, a day of freedom. The Roman taxes are getting higher and yet the poor are getting poorer and there are more in prison than ever before. It seems as if no one cares whether the hungry starve or the homeless have shelter. No wonder the down-and-out, the suffering have dreams of change, freedom from oppression of every sort, dreaming of a new kingdom, a saviour. Jesus speaks to their hopes and dreams.
Like other times of occupation and oppression in the life of Israel, it had been a result of their own sin. It started when they began to forget about God and his ways. God had a wonderful plan for them. It meant being a holy nation, separate in ways to the neighbouring nations, and yet a witness to them of God’s goodness. But unfortunately, temptations of every sort and the desire for immediate pleasure got the better of them. They went the way of other nations and forgot about God. They became self-righteous.
Israel behaved badly. They did not consider the well being of the stranger or visitor to their land. The poor were hungry, the rich were getting richer, no one cared for the homeless orphan and widow, and the Word of God was neglected.
When Jesus spoke about separating the sheep from the goats, one to his right hand and the other to his left hand he was not only speaking to the current hopes and dreams of the disciples but also reminding them of their nation’s former sins. They had once acted the goat and now where receiving from the Romans what they had done before. When Israel had it good they forgot to love God and each other. That was their sin. It was a reminder and encouragement to his disciples to continue loving God and caring for the well being of all people just as Jesus had set the example. Then they will enter into the joy of their master.
Like the nation of Israel and the disciples we have all acted the goat at times. There have been times when you have hurt people and others have hurt you. Sometimes you feel the victim while others see you as the oppressor. There have been times when you gave generously to the needy and withheld your hand when they came again. You have had good times and bad, attended weddings and funerals, laughed with friends and wept alone.
God knows you better than anyone including yourself. When Jesus comes again to separate the sheep from the goats, we all hope that we are counted amongst the sheep on his right hand who will be led into eternal joy with him. But deep down you know there is a struggle within where part of you leads to sin, to act the goat. Where will God put you, with the sheep or with the goats? Who is there that can deliver us from this burden and oppression of our sin?