This talk was given by Paul Wintle on . It is the fifth and final part of a series on hospitality.
Only the final part of the talk was recorded. The total length of the recording is .
‘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. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
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Before the recorded part of the talk, the Bible passage was read and Paul emphasised the need to read the passage in the context of the whole section of Matthew's gospel. The introduction before the transcript is from notes made at the time.
A short clip from the film Shrek introduced the idea that there are many layers to understanding people and things. In our passage today, is ‘sheep and goats’ the main point? We can be misled by section headings in modern English Bibles. Most versions, except the Revised Standard Version, have them but they were not in the original manuscripts. They may reflect the spin, intentional or otherwise, of the translators. They also break up the flow of the text.
We often read this passage as being about final judgement. The sheep go to eternal life, the goats to eternal punishment. The hope is to get into the eternal sheep-pen.
Matthew’s gospel was written to first century Christians, mainly Jews. It contains five chunks of Jesus' teaching in chapters 5 to 7; 10; 13; 18; and 23 to 25. Perhaps five chunks in the same way that the Torah has five books. The fifth chunk, chapters 23 to 25, contains five parables or part-parables. Two thousand years on, These are often interpreted as relating to the final judgement but how did first century Christians interpret them? We may see them differently if we read chapters 24 and 25 as a single block, as it was written. [For more on this, see Tom Wright, Matthew For Everyone, Part 2, SPCK, 2002]
The five parables in chapters 24 and 25
24:36–42. Be ready. In AD70 Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans; the end of the world in Jerusalem. The parable story relates to this, but the first readers would also think about Jesus’ return, or their death.
24:45–51. Wise and wicked servants. How have God's people, Israel, done with the tasks that he set them?
25:1–13. Ten bridesmaids. Jesus is the bridegroom, the wise are those who are ready for his coming.
25:14–30. Servant and master. Again, the events of AD70 could be seen as the master's punishment of his unprofitable servants. The profitable servants had heard the call of Jesus. The parable encouraged its …
… hearers to understand the sign of their times about how many of God’s people, Israel, had failed to see the Messiah come. Now there was going to be trouble ahead. I think I’ve missed out on some of the things. Can we skip the next one, and the next one? I think we’re about there. Yes, God does want us to be wise and use our gifts that we’ve been given. Yes, Jesus did come as Messiah to find out who within his people had used the blessings he had showered upon them. Yes, we can still say that through Jesus, God will sift and weigh everything that faithful followers of Jesus do in life.
This final parable, the one about the sheep and goats, that we read earlier, has a whole way of layers around it. As we unwrap these layers, we can start to understand that Jesus is the ruler of the world as Gill reminded us earlier, too; that Jesus is the ruler of the world. We get to view how this rule will be exercised, through justice. Yes, it is about dividing up, but not now about the wise and the foolish, or about God and Israel, or about the Jews and Gentiles. It’s not, according to Tom Wright, even about sheep and goats. Yes, it may at one level be seen to be about the last judgement, but let’s see what we often miss about this part parable.
I think we might go into the next one. Not yet, one back. Everything hinges on not whether you’re a sheep or a goat, but on which those who are judged have treated the least of these my brothers and sisters. Let me say that again. Everything hinges not on whether you’re a sheep or a goat, but on [the way in] which those who are judged have treated the least of these my brothers and sisters. Who are the brothers and sisters who are being judged? Tom Wright says this isn’t about the sheep and the goats. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus defines his brothers and sisters as those who do the will of my Father and those who hear and obey it, in Matthew 12:50.
He goes on to say the likely meaning of the sin, this is part parable, is that those who have not followed Jesus, the Messiah, will be judged in terms of how they have treated the people whom Jesus counts as family. That’s quite a different way of looking at things. Having talked about a long chunk of Jesus’ teaching in context seems to denounce how Israel, the people of God, the religious rulers, and those who have missed the coming of Jesus have behaved. We now have what Tom Wright calls one regular Jewish way of talking about God’s judgement of the world.
Jesus judges the world on how it treats his new Israel, the wider people of God, the least of his brothers and sisters. Those who see people who are hungry and give them something to drink … Those who are thirsty, give them something to drink. Those who are hungry, give them something to eat. A stranger and invite them in. Naked and get clothed. Ill, and those who look after them. In prison and visited. God’s eternal hospitality depends partly on God. Our duty, part of which is being ready and being faithful and being watchful, is to perform hospitable acts to anyone and everyone.
That includes those we don’t see eye to eye with. Perhaps, even theologically. To those we see as beneath ourselves, to those who we see as strangers or foreigners, to those who have more, or less, than we do, to those with whom we have nothing in common, to those who are naked and imprisoned and thirsty and hungry. Because they might just be Jesus, or one of his brothers or sisters. As a community church, don’t we or can’t we serve our community in its widest sense by offering hospitality, loving the stranger? For that is as Neil said to us last week is philoxenia, loving the stranger. That’s what it’s all about.
Sharing a safe place somewhere to come if you’re lonely or outcast. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if our lives and our church building could offer the eternal hospitality now? Because when we pray and as we did prayer earlier; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; that’s exactly what God invites us to do. Bring what is in the domain of God’s, here right now. What’s in the heavens, here right now.
To end, I’d like to say that having been here for nearly two years; hard to believe, people have begun asking me, what is my vision for the church here. It is as it’s always been. It is as what is being said in the Bible: to care for the widows and the orphan, to look out for the rejected and the afflicted, to stand up for all those who are oppressed. Specific to my personal calling, there is an element of rebuilding broken walls, restoring streets with dwellings, and in the Message version of Isaiah 58: to make the community liveable again. All of this is about building a positive community life, spiritual and physical, emotional and vocational. Jesus might call it life in all its fullness. Or Shalom, full wholeness, in all its different ways.
Our vision at Main Street has always been, I believe, to welcome; to see who God puts in our way and to love them anyway. It’s that hard and it’s that easy. It’s doing what Main Street has always done and we continue to do that every day. You’ll know that before I came here I was a school chaplain and the first known chaplain was a chap called St. Martin of Tours. Or I guess he was Martin of Tours before he became a saint; a Roman soldier and a Christian. The story goes out that one freezing cold day, a beggar asked him for money. Martin had none but seeing the man blue with cold, ripped his soldier’s cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, Martin had a dream. He saw Jesus in the courts of Heaven wearing half a cloak. He heard an angel asked, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?” Jesus replied “My servant, Martin, gave it to me.” In the context of eternal hospitality, our responsibility to offer eternal hospitality isn’t totally dependent on God’s in the future. It depends on what we do now.
Gill: Thank you, Paul. Let’s just have a moment or two of quiet as we think about the many things that Paul has brought to us there before we sing our final hymn together.
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Scripture quotations marked NRSVA are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.