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The Parable Of The Sheep And The Goats


tariki
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For one reason or another, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats has been mentioned on one or two of the various forums I float around.

 

Thinking back, I seem to remember reading a book by the Conservative Evangelical John Stott, who said of it (this is from mempry and I'm unable to give a reference) "whatever it teaches/means,it does not teach slavation by works." One does wonder what on earth it therefore does teach!! Animal husbandry?

 

But very recently another angle came up, which - almost inexplicably when I think about it, given my own leanings - is the passage where Christ asks the sheep to enter the kingdom ( I think the words are "come into your inheritance" or somesuch). The point made as far as I can see is that they are unaware of the import of what they had been doing, and it suddenly struck me that this seems to undercut the "you must be born again, accept Christ as your personal savior" theology of salvation syndrome so beloved by some, whose preference is always for narrow ways (so long as they themselves have edged their way through first)

 

I often meet, as I roam the forums, the accusation that will be made to some......"Not all those who cry Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but they who do my will". Often this point is driven home by those who do not like or agree with theological points made by others, or who speak of ways of knowing the divine that are not sanctioned by their own reading of Scripture. Yet the converse, and its import, seems to escape them. If some can enter the kingdom, totally surprised, then it obviously bodes well for those who quite frankly have never had much time for Fundamentalist preaching.

 

Yes, it is only a parable - though this does not stop someardent souls from pushing home the full unyielding weight of the "depart from me ye cursed into eternal punishment" or somesuch declaration. ( I believe I have heard it quoted in every traslation available to modern man!)

 

I have no doubt that if I troll the net and google a little bit I will find various Conservative Sites that rationalise away the plain meaning so that "faith alone not by works" can remain dominant.

 

Yet as it stands, its all about salvation by works.

 

What do others think?

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I personally view the parable as "a parable" and very simplistically.

 

When the Son is manifested in presence in a human, (the son of man coming in his glory) or Christ within, it can be seen that those (referred to as Sheep) who serve others in the ways mentioned, in essence have served the Son in them self. They symbolically give the appearance of sheep or being weak and helpless in their gentleness because their path is being led by a higher self (Christ). Whosoever has been selfish and neglected those things (referred to as Goats) has served only self and cannot see the kingdom that is before them where the Son resides because the kingdom is not in food or drink or material possessions they seek for themselves at the expense of others. (the kingdom is within) Though the kingdom is not of this world, it is in the world and the sheep enter. The goats remain in the torment of their own self which can never be totally satisfied or content because how can self get enough when it knows it has but a short time and will perish because it is a created thing and must die.

 

I do not see the parable as a case for God's judgement as many describe it because if it is anyone judging, it is merely the illusion of a separate self that is pronouncing judgment on itself by its own actions. That is why the parable begs the question of the Lord from those who heard it, "When did we do these things to you" ? Only when one sees that there is no separation in Spirit can one understand the statement, "whatsoever you have done to the least of your brethren, you have done it unto me."

 

Just my 2 cents off the cuff,

Joseph

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My favorite take on this passage is from Unexpected News: Reading the Bible through Third World Eyes by Robert McAfee Brown. The book is a collection of essays on various Bible passages as understood by members of base communities created by advocates of liberation theology. He points out that it starts with God calling "the nations" and not individuals to be judged. Some see this as an indication that both guilt and judgment have a corporate aspect to them. He also cites the comment made above that neither group seems to know when they did or did not follow the injunctions listed. The conclusion that he reaches is that the story is more about how we and our fellow citizens should act, and not actually about salvation or a lack thereof. I am very taken with all of these ideas.

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I dont think you can conclude that this final judgment passage teaches good works are the only basis for salvation. But as one aspect of greater truth, it calls attention to how a persons life is to be judged outwardly -- what is inside is known only to God.

 

Actually Matthew 25 is not a parable but part of a long apocalyptic discourse, and though all the nations are present, its focus is on individuals (according to my book on parables, anyway). What stands out is that both groups are surprised -- they did not recognize Christ as the one they served, or neglected. Jesus appears as the glorified Son of Man in this scene, but he lived among us as poor and homeless.

 

The six deeds of mercy and lovingkindness described are not particularly Christian, but reflect the values of various cultures prior to Jesus. One doesnt have to be religious to be moral. The people who care for those in need, and make no claims of righteousness or right belief havent we all seen plenty of examples of this?

 

Gods judgment, in this passage, doesnt depend so much on our conscious confession of faith, as on the faith which is working unconsciously in our behavior. Or as Paul wrote, the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

Edited by rivanna
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Thanks for the various responses.

 

grampawombat, it was good to be reminded of the communal aspect. It is true that we are unable to exist at all without our lifestyle effecting all others, for good or ill. I've often been struck by the emphasis often made in Christianity of a purely personal salvation. Of "forgiveness" as a one dimensional redemption of an individual, purely between themselves and their God. I suppose I understand it in a more "incarnational" way, that the forgivness, the mercy, the grace revolves in and around our lives with our fellow human beings, that this is how the ultimate love expresses itself. "Mutual forgiveness of each vice opens the way to paradise" . And though I seek to see us all as being on a level playing field, it is fact that many suffer far more than others, and we are all implicated. Maybe we are all part sheep, part goat!

 

Perhaps why I reflect often on the ultimate reconciliation of all things,of what it involves fo us NOW.

 

Thanks

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Edgar Cayce says,

You grow to heaven. You don't go to heaven.
All souls were created in the beginning and are finding

their way back to whence they came.

Each soul enters with a mission.

We all have a mission to perform.

 

I would say some have to perform as sheep and some as goats.

Edited by soma
grammar
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I also think this passage is teaching a salvation by works doctrine. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus teaches a works based salvation. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus says those who are not against him are with him. He says the greatest commandments is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He praises the faith of a Roman centurion's slave over the "orthodox" of his time because of his actions rather than his faith. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the Samaritan heretic who plays the role of the good neighbor rather than the orthodox Jew. The only place where Jesus teaches a salvation by faith is in John's gospel which is the least historically accurate of the gospels and is more like a spiritual gospel rather than based in history. Just because someone professes to be a Christian and professes all the "correct" beliefs doesn't always mean they're going to be a good person. On the other hand, there are many wonderful and kind non-Christians out there who exhibit the love of Jesus in their actions and the way they treat others even if they don't profess to follow the religion about Jesus. I think Jesus understood that it's how you treat others that matters most and not what your religion is or what denomination you belong to that matters.

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Often, as I muse and reflect on a thread like this, I'm reminded of the story of the Jewish Rabbi. The Rabbi would seek to settle family disputes. Once, a young couple, along with the in-laws, came to him. First the young wife spoke, giving her side. The Rabbi nodded now and gain as she spoke, then when she had finished speaking said..."yes, you are right, you are right". Then the husband spoke. Again the Rabbi nodded occasionally as he spoke, and when finished said....."yes, you are right, you are right." At which one of the in-laws said..."If she is right, how can he be right? And if he is right, how can she too be right?" To which the Rabbi replied......."yes, you are right, you are right"!!.

 

:)

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Often, as I muse and reflect on a thread like this, I'm reminded of the story of the Jewish Rabbi. The Rabbi would seek to settle family disputes. Once, a young couple, along with the in-laws, came to him. First the young wife spoke, giving her side. The Rabbi nodded now and gain as she spoke, then when she had finished speaking said..."yes, you are right, you are right". Then the husband spoke. Again the Rabbi nodded occasionally as he spoke, and when finished said....."yes, you are right, you are right." At which one of the in-laws said..."If she is right, how can he be right? And if he is right, how can she too be right?" To which the Rabbi replied......."yes, you are right, you are right"!!.

 

:)

 

Ah, quoting myself............vanity of vanities, saith the preacher....But I do see this as capturing the paradoxical nature of reality. (Personally I often find myself within contradictions, buts thats another story.... :blink: ) In terms of sheep and goats, and faith and works....We are saved by works. How true! We are saved by faith. True again. Well, they can't both be true. How true!

 

But I just wanted to make the point that as far as I'm concerned, the argument that there will be an eternal/final division of all humanity into sheep or goat resolves nothing, and in fact creates irresovable contradictions.

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Tariki observes that "the argument that there will be an eternal/final division of all humanity into sheep or goats resolves nothing, and in fact creates irresolvable contradictions." I agree, though I don't know what the irresolvable contradictions might be. It seems to me that the community that produced the Gospel of Matthew had great concerns about living the ethical life, and for me the passage that contains the "sheep and goats" comment strongly reflects these concerns. I think the language they used here is just a way of making a point, and has nothing at all to do with who goes to heaven and who doesn't. But then, I doubt that I see the Bible as others do, even here in this presumably progressive venue.

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