To Reconcile or Exclude, A Dilemma.

All nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. [Matthew 25: 32]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   “…the mystery of Christ is this: to unite all things in him in heaven and earth.”(Ephesians 1, 9, 10)

Recently I spoke with a friend about God’s mystery, i.e. his ultimate plan to unite all things in Christ. He countered with the sheep and goats parable, implying God’s plan is to divide rather than unite.  He has a point. How do we reconcile this parable that excludes people with His intention to unite all things?  

God’s nature we know from Scripture, is congruent with reconciling and uniting. He himself is a unity, being one God in three persons. Moreover, God’s nature is to love. So why would a loving God, whose nature is to unite and reconcile, exclude one group while including another? It’s not at all politically correct is it. It violates the modern belief that everyone must be included and that exclusion is bad. Yet the reality is that sometimes it’s more loving to do so.

When my surgeon told me my prostate was full of cancer, he advised the loving thing—to remove it. I wasn’t at all happy about it and going through surgery was tough.  Yet upon recovery, I was so happy and relieved the offending organ was gone! It no longer caused me problems nor did it threaten my life.

Judgment as Surgery: In this parable, “all nations”, meaning the whole body of humanity, includes parts, like my prostrate, threatens the whole body. Surgery is required. The Good Physician has no choice but to remove it for the sake of the health of the whole body.  Surgery isn’t the end of the story but rather makes it possible now for a new beginning. With the divisive, cancerous part removed from humanity, i.e. the goats, the sheep are free to live in harmony with God and one another.

Baa or Butt? Jesus’ hearers knew that sheep and goats possess very different natures. One preacher once said, “If you tell a sheep what to do, it replies, ‘Baa, baa’ and submits. If you tell a goat what to do it says, ‘Butt! Butt!’ ” Goats are independent creatures, prone to wander off on their own. Sheep are social creatures. They want to be united and are most content when gathered together with their flock. Goats, rugged individualists that they are, want to be free of their fellows.  Which of these two is more likely to feel compassion for the sick, hungry, unclothed and imprisoned—those who feels their connection with others, or the those who want to be separate from them?    .

Jesus’ other images of this truth. In John 15 he tells us that some branches on the vine don’t bear fruit, proving themselves to be unhealthy. For the sake of of the whole vine, they must be removed. In Matthew 13 he speaks of  weeds that are gathered with wheat, but then separated, bundled and burned to spare the good grain.

C.S. Lewis wrote there are two kinds of people. “One groups says to God, ‘Thy will be done.’ To the other group God says, ‘Thy will be done’.” The principle is clear. Before God’s “will is done and His “kingdom comes”, there must be a judgment, i.e. an exclusion of those who refuse and rebel against his will. The health and unity of the kingdom requires it.

Lord, fill us with your Spirit that we may love and serve you by loving and serving others. 

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