Uniform 02.15.2015: Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

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Matthew 25:31-46

Unit 2 is called “Stewardship for Life.” Not “Stewardship for Sunday,” “Stewardship for Popularity,” or “Stewardship for a Tax Break.” The lessons in this unit are focused on helping us make giving, serving, and loving a way of life—not a means to some end we think we’re supposed to reach.

I’ve heard the story of the sheep and the goats for years. When I was younger, I felt sorry for the poor goats that would burn in the eternal fire. Sure, they aren’t as fluffy and lovable as sheep—and they eat everything in sight—but the punishment seemed awfully harsh to my young mind.

As I grew older, I understood the symbolism of the story a little better and assumed that I was naturally one of the sheep. After all, I had asked Jesus into my heart at age ten, walked the traditional Baptist aisle to make my choice public, and gotten baptized to show I really meant it. Surely I was a sheep.

Then I went to college. I took a couple of Bible classes that opened my mind to where, how, and why the Bible was written. I met people who had never walked that aisle but who had beautiful, giving hearts. I faced my own spiritual battles with God, said agonizing prayers about my place in the world, and wondered whether “being saved” actually mattered.

A few years later, I was married and raising two daughters. I continue to struggle with the best way to communicate the gospel to these two young, vulnerable minds. I want my girls to be sheep as much as I want to be a sheep! But how do I teach them to follow the path of stewardship?

Now approaching middle age, I find that the questions multiply. Am I a sheep or a goat? Do I serve others in the way that I desire to serve Jesus? Am I aware of the needs around me, and if so, how often do I fill those needs? What holds me back? Is my hesitation enough to earn me the label of “goat”? If Jesus is truly somewhere inside each person, he must be hurt by how frequently I pass him by.

I don’t see my questions getting a solid answer any time soon. The truth is that I more often act like a goat, but I always long to be a sheep. I want to see the needy—on the street, at my daughters’ school, in the church pew, at the family reunion, in the grocery store, at the office, and right under my own roof. I want to see them, and I want to meet their needs as best I can.

Am I a sheep or a goat? The best answer is probably that I am sometimes one and sometimes the other, but in my deepest heart is the desire to be a sheep. I can only pray that, each minute of each day, God helps me turn away from focusing only on personal needs and extend my vision out to the others around me. The only way to live like a sheep is to let the Great Shepherd loop my neck in the staff and guide me in the way of love.

Discussion

1. What does the story of the sheep and the goats mean to you?
2. Have you ever struggled with the heavy demands of this story? What would it look like to be a sheep in our world? To be a goat?
3. How would you answer the questions in the article at this time in your life? Are you a sheep or a goat? Do you serve others in the way that you desire to serve Jesus? Are you aware of the needs around you, and if so, how often do you fill those needs? What holds you back? Is your hesitation enough to earn you the label of “goat”?
4. Do you think Jesus’ demands are too great for us? Why or why not?
5. If being a sheep seems too difficult, dangerous, or daunting, talk to God often about it. Ask for the vision to see people’s needs, the ability to meet those needs, and the courage to follow through. Pray that God would help you be a steward for life.

Reference Shelf

Appropriately enough, the last discourse material in Matthew is a story about final judgment. This story is unique to this Gospel and rounds out all of the Matthean Gospel on a clearly eschatological note. There can be little doubt that this Evangelist has not traded in Jesus’ future eschatology for more emphasis on the present eschatological situation, unlike what seems to be the case in Luke’s Gospel. A good case can be made that we should not see this as a parable but rather as an apocalyptic prophecy with some parabolic elements. This is only appropriate for an apocalyptic sage like Jesus.

There was already of course a Jewish tradition about future judgment and the shape it would take in the later prophetic material especially (see Isa 58:7; Ezek 18:7 and also the parables of Enoch), and there is no reason Jesus could not have contributed to this line of discussion. We have already seen ample evidence in this Gospel that Jesus viewed himself as a special Son of David, one like but greater than Solomon, and here at the end of the ministry, having ridden into town on a donkey like Zechariah’s king of peace, it would not be surprising if Jesus taught a parable about his future role as King, judging human beings. Notice that in 1 Enoch 69:27 it is the Son of Man who is portrayed as the final judge, as seems to be suggested in Daniel 7 itself. First Enoch 62–63 seem also to be standing in the background. Here, however, the judge is said to be Son of Man, shepherd, and King all rolled into one, and at least two of those images in the Old Testament refer normally to God, as does the task of being the final judge. In other words, we have Jesus portrayed as a plenipotentiary fulfilling the role of God, which comports with earlier material in this Gospel that portrays Jesus as both human and as more than human—as God’s Wisdom come in the flesh. In Jewish literature, when it came to the Gentile nations, they would be judged by how they treated Israel (4 Ezra 7:37), but here they will be judged by how they view Jesus.

Structurally what is striking about this passage is the fourfold repetition of the list of needs, always in this order: hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. This presents a short list of tasks that the true disciple is to be about until the Son of Man returns. Here, too, traditional Jewish teaching may be being used and modified.

Reference

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 465-66.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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Comments

  1. Carolyn Harris says:

    Thank you, Kelley! A wonderful way of handling this very familiar passage in a devotional way which makes one really, truly think about her/his own stewardship of life. It will help me be creative in leading my class of ladies who are long-term Christians in the study of this passage.