St Matthew 25: 31 – 46
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “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?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “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?” Then he will answer them, “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 these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Fr Michael taught me that whilst the Church taught the existence of Hell we were not told to believe anyone was there – aside from the devil and his angels! In such a way the Catholic Church rode liberal and conservative horses at the same time. In this passage Jesus seems to do the same. The more liberal, social gospel, types amongst us shuffle a little at the fate of those who don’t engage in social action. The more conservative, right believing, types amongst us shuffle at judgement being about how we behave not what we believe.
When I ministered in Manchester I had the privilege of working with asylum seekers and refugees. I heard stories of rape and torture whilst in police custody in Uganda, of one man’s repeated rapes in Cameroon meaning he needed surgery when he eventually came to the UK. Another friend has had years of therapy to try and come to terms with what happened to him in a Cameroonian prison. A former church member was made to work as a prostitute in Kenya and was then trafficked to the UK believing she’d come to work as a domestic servant but told, on arrival, she had to work in a brothel. Others struggled with guilt as those they’d left behind had been killed; an underground Christian from Iran was late to a prayer meeting and arrived to find all his fellow Christians being arrested.
Where is justice for them when their torturers retire on nice pensions?
Where is judgement for them when leaders of these countries win corrupt elections?
Where is judgement when the world doesn’t provide it?
It’s not for us to decide who is, or who isn’t, in Hell. Jesus doesn’t imply that people go there for believing the wrong things – despite what the Church often seems to imply. Instead Hell’s doors are wide open for those who oppress, torture, starve, and demean Christ in the poor and forsaken.
It’s hard Lord to think of the goats;
might we be goats?
We want to be sheep,
all fluffy and lovely
feeding, visiting, and clothing the poor.
What if we’re goats though?
Help us always, Lord Jesus,
to see you in the poor, the least, the despised,
to serve you in those sisters and brothers,
hat in the difficult task of separating out sheep and goats,
we may come with You. Amen