This last Wednesday the teens of Central and I visited a familiar passage to many of us. The passage speaks of a parable when the Son of Man returns in His Glory and separates all of the nations into segments, much like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats of a herd. To the “sheep” on the right He extends an invitation into eternal reward based upon their seemingly unconscious service to the least of these. To the “goats” on his left he denies this same invitation due to their seemingly unknowing ignorance of the least of these. (Matthew 25:31-46). The trouble with this parable is that I always had trouble differentiating why the goats were bad and the sheep were good. I mean, aside from their sometimes general ornery nature I always felt that goats were pretty okay. And sheep could be pretty ornery as well to be honest. But then I began to think about their eating natures. Goats are notorious for consuming. Not only do they eat everything*, but they consume at massive rates without regard for each other or whoever else might be around. On the other hand, sheep eat grass. That’s it. They only consume what they need in order to provide for those around them, albeit unknowingly (wool and sometimes mutton).
Now let’s take it back to the parable. The goats are those who consume resources at an astonishing rate without giving thought to those around them. All of a sudden the parable begins to make a bit more sense. ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ – Matthew 25:44 When you were consuming resources and looking out for number one you completely missed the least of these. I imagine this would be a more appropriate modern vernacular response. And on the flip side the sheep weren’t even aware of the fact that they were caring for the least of these. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’” – Matthew 25:37-39. They were so used to giving of what they had and sharing their resources that it was a surprise that this was a service to God.
But that’s the thing. God has a huge place in his heart for the least, the last place, the outcast, the oppressed. And He expects us to have the same heart. I came across a quote from Dorothy Day this week that kicked me right in the teeth regarding this. “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Go ahead and read it again. Let it sink in. Maybe we need to realize that our love for God is ultimately reflected in our love for the least. And that we are called to be sheep seeking for a way to provide instead of to consume.
* I was recently told by a friend who owns some goats that this may not be true…although they do eat a lot.