“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
You don’t want to be on the left-hand of Jesus, for that is the sinister side. That is what the Latin translation of His statement recorded by St. Matthew says: “Statuet oves quidem a dextris suis hedos autem a sinistris . . . . And He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” Being on the left-hand side of Jesus means to suffer eternal punishment, a fate reserved for sinister people. It is clear from what Jesus says to those on His left: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
But such a fate is not without warrant. There are multiple reasons for why those on Christ’s left enter into “the eternal fire.” Jesus is very specific about the actions of those on His left that bring them their fate: “For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” Treating Jesus like this is no way to enter into eternal life. To treat Jesus like this is to do the exact opposite of what He has done for you.
And yet, you heard that what those on Christ’s left did was not done to Jesus directly. It wasn’t that they passed by Jesus when they saw Him. Listen to what they said: “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” They would not have ignored Jesus. Instead, they would have come to His aid. But the problem with those on Jesus’ left is that they did not understand the fullness of His teaching. They did not realize what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. For being one of Christ’s disciples brings a special status: it makes one a sibling of Jesus.
It is this lack of understanding, this lack of belief in Christ’s teaching, that condemns those sinister people. The Lord Jesus answers the question of those who said they did not feed, supply drink, clothe, or visit Him because they didn’t see Him: “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” Those on Jesus’ left did not recognize the identity of even the least of His disciples, but Jesus did. He knows His own. He knows whom He has called. He knows every single one of His disciples. He knows who has been made co-heirs of everlasting life, and even the least of His disciples has that status.
But what is interesting is that even those on Jesus’ right didn’t seem to realize that, either. Listen again to what He says to them: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” Jesus lays out a long record of good works that these people did to Him.
But in reaction to what Jesus says about them, even those on His right say: “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?” Even the righteous people did not fully understand what took place. They did not grasp the full impact of what they did in their earthly lives. And yet, they did believe Christ’s teachings; they took His words to heart about how they were to treat others, especially those who were members of their assembly of disciples: “This is My commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.”
It is this belief that leads to everlasting life for the blessed and righteous ones, the right-hand men and women of Jesus. Their actions are commended for their full impact, even if they did not truly understand what they had done: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.” Their righteousness is dependent upon belief in Christ’s teachings and the actions of faith, not their intellectual understanding. Their faith led them to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. They did not know that they were doing these things to Jesus, but they did know that Jesus wanted to do these things. And for that, they are rewarded.
You are to learn from this, for this is how the judgment at the Last Day will take place. How you treat your fellow disciples here on earth will affect the verdict. Jesus’ words are an exhortation to His Church about what the behavior He expects among His disciples. And it has been a consistent teaching from the Lord God throughout time, as He spoke through the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I Myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue My flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.”
There is no room for “sheep-on-sheep crime” in Christ’s Church, because such sinister actions deny and disregard what Jesus has made His disciples. All of His people have been made co-heirs of everlasting life. All of His disciples are His siblings, even the least of them. This is the great and gracious reality that Jesus has bestowed upon you. This is what He has accomplished in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.”
Jesus has brought you back. He has redeemed you from sin and from death and from the power of the devil. This is what He accomplished by laying down His life for the sheep. Through His actions, you have been connected to this and have been given a new identity, a new life. You have been made His brothers. And because of this, you should be the people on Jesus’ right at the Last Day. You should be the ones to whom He says: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
But you must remember the words that come directly after that statement: For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” And you must remember how Jesus says this takes place: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.” For this is what Jesus says is part of your identity, what is done by those who are “blessed by [His] Father.”
Perhaps it isn’t coincidence that you hear these words of Jesus at this time of year, when there are ample opportunities to feed, clothe, and visit those who need it, just as Jesus says His disciples do. Perhaps it isn’t coincidence that as the nation is uneasy and the economic worries and hurt is being seen, that you are again called to action to aid “the least of [Jesus’] brothers.” You have the chances to do things that are simple, ordinary, even mundane and unmemorable, but which provide what your co-heirs of everlasting life need. You may never even consider what you did to be anything special, but as it is done in faith and Christ’s disciples are recipients of your actions, then Jesus Himself will consider that you did it to Him.
Even though you heard these words of Jesus at the time when the focus is judgment, they are empowering words. He has enabled you to do good actions, though once you were totally depraved. Christ has placed you in relationship with other of His disciples, so that your common, everyday works can be done for Him. Your Lord gives you a life that is designed to serve Him and others. He has not set you up to fail, but so you may be commended by Him. This is what the King of Kings desires for you. Jesus wants to say to you, as you heard last week: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master.” And it will please Him greatly to say: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
So it will be for you, as you hear Christ’s teaching and believe it. For such a living faith will lead to works. Taking Jesus’ words to heart and acting upon them will lead to a blessed end, not a sinister one. “He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,” but the sorting has already begun for you. As you have been made part of His Church, Jesus has placed you on His right side.
Continue to hear His teaching and to lead the lives that He has laid out for you, so that you remain His right-hand men and women. That is where you want to be, where He wants you to be. Your Lord has given you His Spirit to abide with you, to sanctify you, and to guide you in your actions. So feed, give to drink, welcome, clothe, and care for your fellow disciples, the siblings of Jesus and co-heirs of everlasting life, as Christ desires you to do. Then “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” will be yours to keep. For such actions stem from belief in what Jesus says and does, and they will be remembered by the King in His glory.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.