Matthew 25:31-46 | Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A
Swimming in the Grey
It’s election season, which is not my favorite time. Elections bring out the worst in us—they reduce everything and everyone to a simple dichotomy of good and bad and right and wrong. Elect this person, and they will fix everything. Vote for this policy and the world will be set to rights. If you don’t choose this way, you are a bad person. Except… We’re ALL humans. With B-I-G human problems. There is no one right person for the job, no one policy that is perfect.
Jesus knew that. He taught in parables to keep us thinking. He taught in the grey area because life is lived in the grey, and He never wanted us to forget it. For a number of the past weeks, we’ve been reading a series of parables Jesus told to remind us that true sinners are the ones who think they aren’t sinning, the self-righteous. The ones who don’t see the grey they’re swimming in. The conclusion of this series is the Judgment of the Nations.
When I first saw the title of this passage, I choked a bit. Judgment of Nations. Judgment. I hate that word. It’s an either/or. We know ultimately it comes down to a judgment, but are we supposed to start that process here on earth? Us? With our tunnel vision and limited view? And…am I going to be judged as a sheep or a goat? Isn’t that what we’re all ultimately interested in?
But as I read it, I realized nowhere does this passage say that we’re supposed to do the judging. Jesus said, “The Son of Man…will separate them…He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left” (vs. 31-33). He is the judge, not us.
So why do we so willingly take on that role? At our core, each of us wants to be a sheep. And, our human brains are wired for black and white, either/or, good and bad. We aren’t wired for the grey, so we just want the criteria that will put us to the right when we sit before that throne. Unfortunately, life’s not that easy.
Again, Jesus knew that. When He says, “What you did not do for these least ones, you did not do for me” (v 45), the definition of “least ones” is left ambiguous. Of course, it refers to “the hungry” and “the thirsty”—those with physical needs. But the teaching also includes “the stranger” and “the ill” (v. 43). So, who are the “least ones”? Earthly privilege doesn’t negate the need for love, care, and God. We’re all “least ones.” Jesus wanted us to give food, drink, care, and love to everyone we meet—He’s in all of us.
As humans, we often have to make a dichotomous choice, like in an election. But, as humans, it’s up to us to remember that choice isn’t the only answer. We haven’t been given the authority to separate the sheep from the goats. Each of us is a grey-ish shade of each, and Jesus is right there too, swimming in the grey.