Welcome back to our ongoing series, I DARE YOU. This is our look at the unique parables of Jesus Christ from the four Gospels found in the New Testament. Once a week, we will examine one of Christ’s stories and let his challenge to his first-century audience speak to us now and provoke us to live in the Kingdom of God better, more fully, more wholeheartedly. We see these parables as dares to step outside of the norm of the world and enter into what God has for us. We hope that you will be likewise challenged and that you will take the dare to live a more Christlike, Kingdom of God-focused life.
It’s one of the most famous parables of Jesus. And maybe one of the most overlooked…
By that I mean, that we have read it so often, heard it preached so many times that we have missed some major points in this parable. Jesus says a lot in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. But have we heard them? Have we heard the “I Dare You” in this parable?
It isn’t easy to hear, nor easy to stomach, but if we are going to honest followers of Jesus, we need to have ears to hear, and hearts ready to obey.
”When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“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. 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, 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.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“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.’
“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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’
“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?’
“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.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?
First things first. This parable is not about salvation.
I say it’s not about salvation because we have turned the word salvation into a very narrow concept. The modern North American Christian thinks of salvation as the result of praying the sinner’s prayer or asking Jesus to come into your heart. We have reduced salvation to “I’ve added Jesus to my life”.
Yes, that is a part of it. But the whole picture of salvation as painted throughout the Gospels is so much more than who gets a golden ticket to heaven, and how you do that. There is so much more.
So, no, this parable is not about salvation, not until we change our thinking about that word.
Second, this parable is not about heaven.
Nowhere is heaven mentioned in this parable.
The King in the parable talks about the sheep, the righteous, receiving an inheritance. That inheritance is a kingdom prepared for them. But it doesn’t say heaven.
We have added in the idea of heaven. We have grabbed other verses, other Scripture with references to heaven and a kingdom prepared for us, and concluded that is what The King of the parable meant.
That doesn’t mean that we cannot imply the kingdom referred to is the Kingdom of Heaven, but implying can quickly become assuming. And when we start assuming to know what Jesus implying or inferring, we are walking into dangerous territory.
Honestly, I think we are focusing too hard on a detail when we start assuming and implying about the kingdom and whether or not it is heaven. Really, I think we are missing the point that this parable is trying to get at.
Jesus is not trying to teach the audience about heaven and hell. Jesus is pointing out in, very stark terms, what is most important to The King.
THEN WHAT IS THIS PARABLE ABOUT?
This parable is about what really matters to The King, that being Jesus Christ.
The way that the King divides the crowd is, that is what is of consequence here. Not that some are labelled sheep. Not that some are labelled goat. What Jesus wants us to get is how they are separated. The judgement of who receives the inheritance and who does not is what Jesus is purposefully drawing attention.
What is it that creates a chasm between the sheep and goats?
The treatment of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and imprisoned.
You might think, ‘well, yeah, of course.’ But I think we struggle with understanding how very important this is. Especially to Jesus.
Jesus is screaming aloud the challenge, the dare, to his audience then, and the audience of the world now:
I DARE YOU TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR.
This is the dividing line. This is what separates those who Jesus welcomes in and those who are not. Eternal life and eternal punishment are the rewards for how we answer this challenge.
I dare you to love your neighbour; the one without food, the one that is an immigrant, the one that doesn’t have all the trappings of this world, the one that is ill, and the one, guilty or not guilty, who is in jail.
That might seem like a simple answer, but the challenge is powerful. The words might be easy to repeat, but to take this dare is to rethink and retrain yourself how to act towards people.
When the Pharisees came to question Jesus, they asked,
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
”Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus unequivocally says that the most important things that you can believe and do in your lifetime are:
1. Love God
2. Love your neighbour
Easy? No, but they are the bedrock, the foundation that Jesus stood on. Everything he did, everything he said boiled down to these two things. In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus points out just how vital is it that we pay attention to the second one.
Love your neighbour.
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?
Like the expert of the law in Luke 10, we may feel like we need more clarification as to who our neighbours are. Jesus makes it very obvious, in Luke 10 and here in Matthew 25, who we are supposed to be loving.
The hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and imprisoned; these are our neighbours. These are the people that we are supposed to be loving.
Then Jesus spells out how to do that as if answering the question before we ask.
Feed those that don’t have food. Give water to those that don’t have access to any. Treat the stranger with hospitality. Clothe those that do not have. Give medical and physical aid to the sick. Give hope and grace to those in jail and prison.
That doesn’t sound hard. But to actually live it out maybe.
To feed those that don’t have food may mean you don’t have as much in your pantry. To give water to those that don’t have may mean that you take money out of your retirement so that a well can be dug. Treating the stranger with hospitality may mean including them at your table (maybe at a restaurant, maybe in your home). Clothing those that do not have may mean that you donate the vast majority of your wardrobe, or take the money you were going to spend on new clothing and buy that man, that woman, that child something they need. Giving aid to the sick may mean buying their medication for them, helping them get dressed in the morning, or giving them a ride to the hospital or clinic on a regular basis. Going to visit those incarcerated souls may mean that you put yourself at risk, may mean you have to forgive someone’s wrongdoing, may mean that you have to consider someone human instead of a monster.
And that is a very literal, not making that a 21st-century reality reading of Scripture. As soon as we do, there are more things that we need to rethink.
Things like national immigration need to be considered. How we react to that “foreign” family that moved in down the street needs to be rethought. How we spend our money. On what things we spend our money. How we deal with the sick and elderly needs to be re-examined. How we reintegrate convicts into society needs to be looked at.
Easier said than done, absolutely. Most of these would require major, national change. It wouldn’t happen overnight, and would not be an instant fix in any country.
But Jesus calls his followers, his disciples, Christians to live this way. To love their neighbours, even a radical love like this.
This is not an easy parable. Easy to read, sure, but not easy to live out. Not easy to take seriously, if the words of Jesus actually transform your life. Not easy when you consider the risk involved. Jesus’ words are very clear, with eternal reward or punishment hanging in the balance.
How do you treat your neighbour? Do you love your neighbour? Do you take the second most important commandment seriously, and live that way?
All Scripture references provided by Biblegateway.com Be sure to check them out if you are looking for a verse, some commentaries to help you understand a passage or a devotional to keep you in the Written Word every day. Or for those on the go, check out their app, available at the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Fire.
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This article first appeared on Christian Thought Sandbox.