This image of Jesus separating the good people from the bad people, like a shepherd separating sheep from goats, is something that I remember as a Catholic kid growing up. It expressed the kind of relationship that I thought we had with God, him being the judge and we the helpless animals awaiting judgment. There was so much fear about not being good enough, of going to that bad place because I hadn’t done or wasn’t doing the right things. It probably didn’t help that the words, “Can’t you do anything right?!” spoken by my father rang in my childish ears.
I had actually figured out as a nine- or ten-year-old, that my eternal destiny was dependent on whether I was “caught” being good or being bad when I died, like randomly hop-scotching between a square marked “Good” and one marked “Bad.” And given that I was just as likely to be doing something Bad as I was doing something Good it all seemed pretty random to me and more dependent on when I died instead of whether I was really Good or Bad. Of course, that pretty much changed when I became a teenager and began to explore my sensual appetites, then all i did was “Bad.”
Funny how, after becoming a Christian this need to be “good enough” still persisted. But this passage is not about being good enough or even about doing the right thing. It’s a parable about how different things will be in the Kingdom of God. First is that Jesus will sit as King upon a throne instead of being this largely rejected itinerate prophet. The next thing is that one will not be judged on the basis of personal public piety, but one will be judged on the basis of ones hidden acts of kindness. How we treat one another is more important than prayers in the synagogue or other outward displays of righteousness. The care and concen for others, that comes from the heart, is what the King is looking for from his subjects. “Good enough” doesn’t even enter into it.
Again, it’s not about the self but about our relationships with one another. In the Kingdom the good that we did for one another is what is most important. It’s pretty antithetical to the typical modern existence of living with ones head down, focusing on achieving some important business or career goals and not letting anything or anyone distract from reaching those goals. What’s the point, if one has done it all with no regards for those in ones life or those desiring to be in ones life? More importantly, we serve the King when we serve one another. Good, bad, worthy or unworthy, none of it matters as much as seeing the King in the eyes of those around us and serving them with our whole hearts and with all that He’s given us:
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, 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
Matt. 25: 35-36