Sheep & Goats

Brian stood up in the middle of the discussion and said, “We don’t need to send them any money because we’re supposed to take care of our own.”

The pastor was stunned, offended, and angry that this man with so much influence in the church, who claimed to have been a Christian for many years, would so easily dismiss the church’s responsibility to help the poor in their community.

It was a regularly scheduled church business meeting. The Elders, with the pastor’s encouragement, had presented a motion to send $1000 of the surplus in the general fund to a community benevolence fund which was preparing to give Christmas gifts to fifty families with more than 150 children. The fund was well managed; the recipients were screened and had genuine needs.  This was an opportunity to make a difference.

The pronouncement from Brian brought discussion to a halt. As a major contributor and long-time member, Brian was exerting his profound influence. If he didn’t think it was a good idea there weren’t many in the meeting who would oppose him.

“What do you mean by ‘take care of our own,'” the pastor asked, “Who is ‘our own?'”

“Well, you know,” Brian answered, “people who go to our church.”

The pastor continued, “Do you know anyone who attends our church who is facing severe financial problems?”

Silence. It was deafening.

Everyone intuitively knew the answer. No family in the church would be unable to put presents under the Christmas tree or have an empty refrigerator.

“If there are no needs in our church family,” said the pastor, “let’s help those in our community who do have needs.”

Brian quickly responded – almost as if the answer had been rehearsed: “Those people don’t deserve our help. They smoke and drink and do drugs; some are living with people they’re not married to, others just got out of jail. They’re lazy good-for-nothings.”

Once again, silence.

The pastor knew that some of the people getting assistance from the community benevolence fund had very messy, complicated, and addiction controlled lives. There were others who had needs because of circumstances beyond their control; a local plant had just closed, another had massive lay-offs, and one family had two children with birth-defects. And there were probably a couple of people who were “working the system.”

The motion failed.

How come we so easily dismiss the very poignant parable about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46? Should we just hit the delete button and pretend Jesus never told this story?

Why have our hearts become so hard toward the needs of people with messy lives? We have no problem helping people we like; people who are just like us. But helping those caught in addiction spirals, or giving a bag of groceries to a gay couple is difficult if not impossible. Why?

The point of the parable in Matthew 25 is clear: We are expected to meet the needs of those around us – no matter how distasteful we find their lives and/or circumstances.

Of even greater importance, Jesus seems to indicate that the depth of our commitment to God will be measured by how we helped and reached out to those with needs. The pastor in the story has openly speculated about whether or not Brian understands that his opinion about who deserves help might actually result in God saying, “I don’t know you.”

This is a true story but some names and circumstances have been altered.

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