Headlines from First Thoughts

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Getting Connected Naturally

Doing What Comes Naturally
Matthew 25:37 “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to eat?”

In Jesus’ familiar parable of the sheep and the goats, the focus of interpretation is usually on the rationale for separation: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.” The sheep and goats conduct themselves differently, and their conduct has eternal consequences. We rightly apply that to our lives.

There is something that sheep and goats share in common in the parable however. Eugene Boring notes that both groups are quite surprised—even dumbfounded—when the shepherd explains the reason for separation. They say, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to eat?” (25:37) The goats say the same thing, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry…..?” (25:44) In both cases, neither one of them knew that they were doing anything good or bad, they just did whatever came naturally to them.

This parable focuses on the significance of the ordinary decisions of life. The only thing that sheep (and goats for that matter) really do well is what comes naturally—the things that they have been trained and conditioned to do; and they do them repeatedly.

At the last judgment people are not rewarded or condemned for the things that they can remember that they have done; they are judged on the unnoticed acts. They are judged on the things that just come naturally.

The most significant question for our lives is not, “What would Jesus do?” Even more critical evaluation is required. We must look into our hearts and schedules asking, “Whom do I ignore when I am not even thinking about it? Whom do I miss because it comes naturally for me to rush by? Who never gets the cup of cold water because my calendar says it’s time for a meeting? Who doesn’t get the invitation to dinner because I am not sure if it would be safe to do something like that?”

The power of the cross and the resurrection is that it changes even what comes naturally. Christ’s work changes the way we think about what we do and the way we do things. He has the power to take our lives, our record-keeping selves, and change them into the kind of sheep who take in his brothers and say to him, “Lord, we had no idea we were doing that, but thank you O God for giving us your kind of deliverance, your kind of suffering, your kind of love, your kind of shepherding.”

An excerpt from Sessions with Matthew, forthcoming from Smyth and Helwys publishing, Summer 2007.

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