By Reggie Connell
A person at church that I admire and respect a great deal reminded me of the importance of prayer and “staying in the word”. I think that term can mean different things to different people, but to me, it’s sometimes a challenge to read the Bible and ALLOW it to speak to me. Typically I try to dig into the hidden or deeper meaning when I read the Bible, usually in an effort to put together an interesting Bible study…but today I just read and let the text speak…let God speak to me.
To really get myself out of the temptation of analysis, I used The Message Bible, which by the way is a much stronger version than I ever gave it credit for. It has very powerful descriptions and active verbs that definitely hold your attention. I highly recommend it for this type of reading.
I started right at the beginning of Matthew and read without much thought until I got to Matthew 25:31 – The Sheep and the Goats parable. It seemed to resonate with me. Rather than paraphrase the text, I’ll let you read it in the Message interpretation:
The Sheep and the Goats
31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”
Matthew 25:31-46/The Message Bible
It’s not often that Jesus curses farm animals to eternal doom in a parable, but there it is in black and white (or red depending on your Bible choice) for all to read and decide what it means for them.
So what does it mean to you? Who is the “hidden Jesus” in today’s society? Who are the hungry? The thirsty? The homeless? The shivering? The sick? The imprisoned? Are we blessing, loving and serving them? Or are we ignoring, labeling and criticizing them?
The other part of my friend’s reminder was to pray more and with heart and passion. Tonight I will pray and listen for a message from God. I will pray for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, shivering, sick and imprisoned people of this world. I will pray I can be a comfort to them no matter what my level of discomfort is with them.