The life of faith
For the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing parables about the ‘coming’ or parousia of Jesus. We heard the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins; the bridegroom was delayed, and five bridesmaids missed his coming because they’d ran out of oil. We heard the Parable of the Talents, and of the third slave whose fear of the master kept him from the risky adventure of faith that he was being invited into.
Today, we reach the pinnacle of Matthew’s teaching: the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.
Remember, parousia means ‘being alongside’; the parousia of Jesus is the ‘being alongside’ us of Jesus. This parable teaches how Jesus is alongside us right now. We don’t have to wait to meet him! Isn’t that good news!?
Let me just offer one warning when we’re reading parables: when we interpret a parable, we are meant to find its central theme—and then we are meant be surprised or even disturbed by it. We are not meant to look at every detail and make each detail have a meaning.
So this parable is about how Jesus comes to us now, and how the judgement happens here and now in the events of our lives. It’s not about ‘getting to heaven’; it not about ‘who goes to heaven and who goes to hell’.
This parable is about how we should live by faith now, since Jesus is coming to us every single day of our lives. It shows us that people of faith have a responsibility for the world. Jesus comes to us incognito, hidden, unknown: he comes hungry and thirsty, he comes a stranger, or naked, or sick or in prison. Christ the King comes to us in rags, and bids us to serve him by faith.
In some ways this is a frightening parable. Nobody knows when they have met Jesus, neither the sheep nor the goats!