It’s the last week of Jesus’ life, and when you’re reading through the book of Matthew, you can sense the weight. The urgency. The clarity. He tells his disciples, “you are either a sheep or you are a goat.” It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?
Except, it isn’t.
Who is a sheep and who is a goat?
Jesus says to the sheep, “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.” The sheep ask when they did these things, and Jesus’ response is that whenever you did this for one of the least of these, you did it for him.
Then the goats ask the same question, they ask when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison and not help you? And Jesus responds, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)
Mathew 5 and 25 serve as the perfect bookends to Jesus’ teaching. He begins his teaching in Matthew 5 with the poor, the mourning, the meek, the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the ones who are persecuted because of righteousness as the ones who are blessed, the people who will inherit the kingdom. And ends in Matthew 25 with a story about sheep and goats.
Jesus begins and ends with the least of these. With the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. Jesus teaches that he so identifies with the least of these, that when you serve them, you are actually serving him. And yet somehow, over the last year I have read some of the most horrific headlines, movements and legislations being promoted and led by Christians.
Somehow, we have interpreted the good news in such a way that the Jesus who aligns himself with the marginalized is the reason Christians fight for laws to discriminate against minorities and build up barriers to protect us from and keep out people who are different. Somehow, Jesus followers are on the side of protecting the privileged and preferences of the powerful; further oppressing the Other.
Jesus inaugurated his ministry in Luke 4:17 by unrolling the scroll of Isaiah that was handed to him in the synagogue. He stands up and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Injustice, violence and discrimination are antithetical to Jesus' mission. Jesus taught his followers to leave their work, their families, to give up all they had in order to follow him. His followers risked their lives, were imprisoned and even killed for their faithfulness. They never fought for their way to the top, but they sacrificed their lives for the people at the bottom.