Yesterday, we considered the parable of the virgins, which challenged us about our readiness to face God on the day of judgement. We noted that this judgement is inescapable and that we must personally ensure that we are prepared to face it. Readiness for judgement is not transferrable. The unwise virgins could not rely on the readiness of the wise virgins: Each was included or excluded on the basis of her own readiness.
The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31–46) again speaks to the issue of readiness, but the emphasis shifts slightly here. In this parable, readiness is portrayed in terms of activity. Readiness is not proven by how much you know but by what you do. This is not to say that we earn our favoured standing before God, but that active service is the evidence of readiness. As David Garland puts it, “Vigilance is not a passive waiting and watching, but consists of active, responsible service. When Christ returns, he will not ask if one had the day right but ‘What have you been doing?’”
Significantly, the evidences of readiness that Jesus highlights in this parable are profoundly others-focused. In the parable, the Judge is not interested in how many Bible studies you taught or how many theological debates you won. His concerns are far more basic: Did you feed the hungry? Did you give water to the thirsty? Did you welcome strangers? Did you clothe the naked? Did you care for the sick? Did you visit prisoners? This list of concerns, observes Doriani, “encompasses the basic human needs: for food, water, and companionship.”
The parables in Matthew 25 have to do with readiness. They ask us to each examine our own personal readiness to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. And they teach us that the way to evaluate our readiness is by examining our relationship with Christ’s people.
While the New Testament certainly commends doing good for all people, it places particular emphasis on compassion to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). That is certainly the focus of the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus is concerned about what we do for “one of the least of these my brothers.” He is concerned for the compassion that we show toward his people.
It doesn’t take any particular gifting to display such active, responsible service. It is as simple as feeding the hungry, watering the thirsty, and showing hospitality to the stranger. It is as simple as clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner. It is as simple, in other words, as doing what you can to meet the basic needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The parable of the sheep and the goats asks us a very basic question: Are you concerned about the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you aware of their needs? Are you building the kind of relationships with your fellow believers in which such care and concern naturally flows? Are you building the kinds of friendships in which questions about these basic needs can be naturally asked and in which help can be genuinely offered and received?
Doriani writes again, “Love for Jesus’ disciples and messengers certainly proves that someone has responded properly to the gospel message.” As you consider whether or not you are ready to face the day of judgement, ask yourself, “Do I love the least of these Christ’s brothers?” Are you committed to active, responsible service toward those whom Christ loves, driven by the love that he showed to you on the cross?