Bishop Stacy F. Sauls reflects on the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the teaching that the Son of Man and the poor are one in God's eyes.
As you well know by now, this week’s gospel reading (Mt. 25:31-46), the parable of the sheep and goats, is particularly important to me. It forms the basis of a lot of my theological thinking, and it is the lens through which I see the church, the world, and the interaction between the two. In truth, it is the passage that forms the basis of how I understand the basic interaction between God and humanity, Christian or not. It has everything to do with how I understand mission.
You remember the story. The Son of Man gathers all of humanity together and separates them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep, gathered at the right hand, are blessed; the goats, gathered at the left, are condemned. The basis of the judgment has to do with how one has responded to the needs of the poor, giving them food when hungry, drink when thirsty, welcome when lonely, clothing when needed, and whether one has visited them when sick or in prison. “Truly I tell you,” says the Son of Man, “ just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The Son of Man and the poor are one. It is a radical teaching.
It is also a disturbing teaching, for the opposite is also true. “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
And that is a pretty sobering message, or at least it is for me. I know that I pass many a hungry person on the streets of New York and do not even look in their eyes. It is rather like fear of looking directly at the face of God perhaps. The judgment to come ought to cause me sleepless nights.
Sometimes, though, I run across reason to hope. An article in ENS last week was such an occasion. Two weeks ago, an Episcopal priest named Mark Sims was arrested and charged with a crime in Ft. Lauderdale. He was fingerprinted, photographed, and released with a court date on a charge that carries a possible $500 fine and 60 days in jail. Do you know what the crime was? It was that he fed homeless people in a city park and he led his congregation to do likewise.
Now I don’t know Mark Sims, although I’m calling him today. I want to hear his story. I want to hear his story because I’m pretty sure he has seen Jesus, and that is something I would like to hear about. I want to hear his story because I think he had five talents and just made a big profit. I want Canon Sims to know he inspired me to be a better Christian. I want Canon Sims to know he has given me hope, not just hope to avoid the judgment. More importantly, it has given me hope to enter into the presence of God more fully day by day on the streets. And isn’t that what the mission is?