One of Jesus most famous parables is the story of the sheep and the goats. It is nice because it is one of the few times Jesus gives us a clear picture of who is in and who is out. We are by nature dualistic thinkers and we like lines. This side is good, that side is bad. Jesus pretty much never gives such simple answers. Matters of the heart are rarely black and white, they are a variety of shades in between. Probably more than fifty. So why in this case?
First, the parable wasn’t designed as a “this is what you do to get to heaven” story. It was more of a “someone whose heart is after the Kingdom of God will find themselves compelled to do these things” story. So it wasn’t about dualistic right and wrong, it was about the fruit produced by a heart changed by the Gospel.
In this day, progressives like myself have a tendency to use this passage politically. Jesus said do for the least of these and the other party wants to kick them out, let them die, take away their insurance, etc. But Jesus never said whatever you voted for someone to do for the least of these. He never said whatever your government does for the least of these. He said whatever YOU do for the least of these.
The church where my wife and I met was a very conservative charismatic church. They stood politically and theologically for so many things I disagree with now. But there was an older couple in the church that ran a local food pantry. They gave food to needy families in the small town the church was in. They would also visit with them and pray for them. At holidays they would provide holiday meals and at Christmas they would get presents for families that couldn’t afford them.
I remember several occasions when I got up at church on their behalf and asked our NRA supporting republican voting church to step up to buy turkeys or take names off an angel tree. Without fail the church would come through and exceed all expectations. They also visited nursing homes and jails. They took the responsibility of Jesus’ words on themselves.
Don’t misunderstand me. I care abou the poor and oppressed. If there are steps governments can take to minimize suffering, I support it. But supporting that does not absolve us of our individual and community responsibility to do unto the least of these. That is the true sign of a heart that has been changed by the Gospel.