Saint Matthew paints a great picture of the Judgement at the end of time. His imagination runs riot in a heavenly courtroom, complete with angels. A room filled with suspense. The fact of judgement is a given but the criteria are not yet clear. The Son of Man King begins, as Matthew always likes Him to begin, by dividing the nations in two. Sheep to the right, goats to the left. The goats are nervous now, but it is not yet clear what the Son of Man King is looking for in terms of success or failure.
This text is often called, ‘The Gospel of the Final Surprise!’ But in reality the criteria have been there since the foundation of the world. Now, the Father of the Son of Man King is blessing those who were good to His Beloved Son. The ‘sheep’ ministered to Him when he was in need or in trouble. This is the “Open Sesame” into the Kingdom of the Father. The sheep are surprised. What about keeping the rules? Or making great Art? Or visiting the Temple/Church/Synagogue/Mosque? Is all that counts how you treated the Son of Man King? The sheep are confused. They cannot seem to remember seeing the Son of Man King in distress. But He reassures them that he is so connected to all creation that even when they did it for the ‘least’ they did it to Him.
And it seems there is also a fire which has been prepared since the foundation of the world. The goats warrant this final home because they did not help the Lord in distress. They did nothing. The goats are confused, asking the same question as the sheep. But the Son of Man King is clear that they did not care for the least.
Although the sheep and goats share the same confusion, the sheep clearly just attended to the suffering of people around them without considering their ‘status’ or their ability to pay them back in money or influence. The goats did not see the Son of Man King, but if they had known it was He, you can be sure they would have helped. This would have been a good deed with a guaranteed payback. ‘If we had known it was you, O King, and not some miserable nobody, of course we would have helped. Sheep care without calculation.
Goats care only with calculation. Saint Matthews’ Judgement scene is exciting. It suggests that the genuine qualities of those who have been filled with the Spirit of God are first, that they act without hesitation to help someone in need. Secondly, they do so without calculating if there is anything in this for themselves. Lastly, their actions remain hidden. This reminds me of the story of a woman who went with some friends to an Ashram. She described this experience as touching the ‘real thing’. Asked what she meant, she said that they stayed about six weeks, at the end of which she had a chance to talk to the famous spiritual teacher who lived there. She told him that everything they had experienced during their stay was remarkable. Without missing a heartbeat, he replied, “Everything you see here is because of the grace of my grandmother”. You see, she said, he had no need to promote himself or call any attention to his abilities. He knew they were a gift from elsewhere. When caring just happens, and no one is claiming the credit, we know the Spirit of God is present.
So if I was a reporter interviewing the sheep lounging around in their newly inherited Kingdom, and asked them how they managed to find themselves such amazing digs, I imagine them saying, “We just cared for every person we met, immediately and without calculation. And it wasn’t a big deal”. Or so it seemed!