Many of us secretly love endings because we get to see how it all works out. Some of us might even fast-forward through a tv show or movie or even read the description of an episode before watching. And so, our natural response is to ask, “How does it all work out? Who wins? Who loses? Who’s in? Who’s out? What can I expect to happen when…”
We’d love it if Jesus’ parables gave us a clearer picture. However, as Jesus so often does, He doesn’t answer those questions but does others.
How should we live in the meantime?
What do we do in the space between now and then?
How do we “wait” for the end?
And we certainly don’t like this because we don’t like waiting or facing uncertainty. We like beginnings and endings. We’d much rather check off a bunch of boxes and wait for things to get good.
Jesus uses “in the meantime” parables to convey His point when we would’ve otherwise missed it. Over and over in Jesus’ parables, we see in different ways the simple but profoundly difficult truth that what we do in the meantime matters. Not just what we say we believe but how we live as a result of what we believe.
As Christians, we often fall into the trap of thinking it’s about what we believe in the meantime. But there’s an uncomfortable thing about belief. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It has and should have profound real-world implications for how we live.
And it’s not just waiting it out. There’s a prevalent idea among Christians that even has a song: “This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.” It sounds great, but it’s misguided because it causes us to withdraw, to not think about the impact our lives now have.
In this parable, Jesus is saying to His followers and us that we’re a part of God’s kingdom.
We’re not of this world, but right now, this world is our home. And while we’re here, we’re not members of a club with a secret handshake. We’re His ambassadors.
What you actually believe is true is proven by what you do and how you live, especially while you’re stuck waiting. And there’s often a gap between those two things for us. So, Jesus starts by fast-forwarding to the end, but not to answer our questions, to look back with the benefit of hindsight.
31When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Sheep and goats are similar, but also very different.
34 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. 35 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, 36 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.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 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.’
We use this parable as a shorthand for “do nice things for less fortunate people.” This should be obvious, but there’s more subtlety and nuance.
- Whatever you DID
Not whatever you thought, prayed for, or had feelings about. It’s easy for us to equate feeling a thing for doing a thing.
- For one of the least
The lowest in stature, the ones who have nothing to offer us. The ones who feel like an inconvenience, a distraction. Many of the things we do for others have something to do with what we get back.
- Of these brothers and sisters of mine
There are a couple of ways to look at this. First, it could be understood as those who identify with Jesus, the Jesus followers, the ones that follow in His footsteps. We serve and care for each other. It could also be understood as who Jesus identifies with. It’s not the powerful or influential, but the people who are the opposite.
- You did for me
This is our act of worship, our actual act of service. Not praising His name, not even our beliefs, but what our beliefs cause us to do because that’s what we actually believe. And the stakes for what we DO with what we believe are incredibly high.
We could be looking for Jesus in the wrong places.
41 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. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’
44 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?’ 45 “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.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
We tend to see whatever it is we’re looking for. When you buy a car or want something, you suddenly see it everywhere. If you are looking for strife and difficulty in the world, you will find it. If you’re looking for goodness, you’ll find that too.
What eyes are you seeing the world through? What are you seeing?
If you look for Jesus in the world around us, you’ll begin to see Him again. But you’ll find Him in unexpected places and unexpected ways.
The interesting thing about the sheep and the goats is that neither one saw Jesus, but one DID, regardless of whether they saw or not. The ending of this parable seems harsh, but here’s the great news: we’re not at the ending yet. We’re living in the meantime.
So how should we live in the meantime?
- Where are you not seeing Jesus in your life because it doesn’t look like you expected?
- Where are you missing Jesus in your life because it doesn’t feel like you get anything out of the deal?
And that’s the story we find ourselves in.
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