The previous post was entitled, “What Must I Do?”. While still looking at the same Gospel reading, Matthew 25:31-46 (which I will not quote in full again – see the previous post or Bible Gateway or your YouVersion app or something for the full context), I want to focus on the collective message.
I have heard plenty messages on this passage about individual responsibility and I have delivered more than a few. However, I was struck by verse 32:
All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.
Matthew 25 comes at the culmination of Jesus’ prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24 and his weeping over the city in chapter 23. It is also a New Testament expansion of Daniel 7, which describes the Ascension.
So while it is useful, and has always been accepted by the Church, as a picture of the Final Judgment at the end of time, it is also a picture of judgment that we face throughout time.
The collective nouns should remind us of Old Testament prophecy. Most Old Testament prophecy is spoken against nations, whether Israel, or Judah, or Edom, Moab, Assyria, Babylon, or others. In Matthew, Jesus has things to say against smaller groups, such as the “woes” to the scribes and Pharisees in the first part of chapter 23. But it is over the whole of Jerusalem that He weeps.
And of course the idea of judgment before The Final Judgment could be no clearer than the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
So there is certainly a sense in which the nations are separated one from another. There is, even in the New Testament era, collective responsibility.
The question then arises, are we a sheep nation or a goat nation? And what is the criteria of judgment? What evidence is laid before the Judge?
Is it that most of us – or at least that more of us than some other country or countries – claim to be Christian? Is it because we pray more? Is it that we have sent the most missionaries out to heathen lands?
Is it our claim to have been founded as a Christian nation? Is it that we have blended our Christianity and our patriotism so closely together that it is difficult to tell one from the other? Is Jesus most impressed that we have a really good Constitution, even if some bad people what to make it into something we don’t like, but we are dedicated to the original intent of our holy Founding Fathers?
Maybe it is our dedication to private property rights and the guns to protect them. Or perhaps trying to live as best we can by our non-contextual use of St Paul’s maxim in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”
Or is it the same criteria that is used for us at the Final Judgment?