‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
This is a text that is difficult to approach without suggesting judgement and condemnation. I think, though, that a lot of the judgement is due to how we read, rather than the letter of, the text.
We focus on separation, we always have. God creates humanity, and we focus on separation by gender and sex. God provides us with a garden, and we focus on separation from God by the relentless search for knowledge. God provides us with an opportunity for reconciliation, and we respond by blaming each other for all that is wrong.
The same can be said for approaches to this text. We focus on the difference between sheep and goats, one good, the other bad. We focus on the apocalyptic message, and forget about the message for today. We focus on blame and punishment, forgetting about mercy and love.
What if this Gospel message is all about redemption? What if it is about bringing people together, rather than separating us? God brings us together, left and right, we are gathered around. Rather than worrying about division, perhaps we should heed Christ’s words and work together for justice.
If we want to ensure the salvation of all people, the focus on individual ethics is misguided. We can’t merely feed the hungry and look after the sick. Rather, we must work together to end the conditions of their hunger and sickness. We can’t merely give to charity or help our oppressed neighbour. Rather, we must work together to break the institutional chains which bind and oppress. We can’t merely welcome and include the other. Rather, we must work together to tear apart our prejudices. Then, perhaps, we will all live in God’s realm as one. May it be so.
Shepherding God, we pray for all people on pedestals of power, that they might learn humility, and for ourselves, that we might be humble. We pray for all people in chains of oppression, that they might learn boldness, and for ourselves, that we might speak out. Loving God, help us to move together as one, to shatter oppression and break down injustice. in your merciful name. Amen.
Alex Clare-Young is an Ordinand at Westminster College, Cambridge