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Related Bible reading(s): Matthew 25.31-46

PostScript: United we stand

 Jesus shows that we should leave the judging to him (Matthew 25.31-46).

 Context

 

Reflection

In this week’s Gospel passage, we read how the Son of Man, when he comes in glory will ‘separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left’. One of the fascinating aspects of this reading is that before the people are judged (for their actions), they are initially separated.

We are familiar with the saying ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ and, in our society, we tend to eschew anything that causes separation or creates division. One of the common complaints levelled against ‘outgoing’ US President, Donald J. Trump, is his divisiveness. And a key plank of President-elect, Joe Biden’s campaign, was a commitment to bring both sides together to create a ‘United States’ (although time alone will tell whether this will be possible during his tenure). Similarly, the ‘departures’ in Boris Johnson’s inner circle of advisors were an attempt to create unity and improve morale in the Cabinet Office and the Tory Party.

Unlike today’s Gospel reading, which clearly delineates between those who did the right thing (the sheep), and those who did not (the goats), humans tend to use arbitrary – and unhelpful – criteria to effect division;  such as ethnicity, religion, class, politics etc. Moreover, there is a clear element of scapegoating (no pun intended) linked to our divisions – people and groups are singled out and blamed for their activities and behaviours. History shows that this reproaching invariably leads to some form of punishment.

I was 16 when I first visited the Caribbean, and in parts of Jamaica sheep are sheared due to the heat and certain parasites. Without a fleece, a sheep looks remarkably like a goat, and at times it was hard to differentiate. Such an early experience taught me a lot about assumptions and rushing to judgement.

We see from today’s reading that Jesus Christ is the great – and only – judge; a king with the integrity and wisdom to know who is truly ‘good’ and who is not. We also know that he is compassionate and has a passion to see real unity between God and all those created in his image.

 

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
as we consider the parable of the sheep and the goats,
let us be followers who seek to encourage unity and amity
among all those who are made in your image.

May we never be people who rush to judgement,
or fall into the trap of condemning or criticising harshly
those who do not share our beliefs, political views or cultural values. 

May we display your compassion, integrity and wisdom,
when engaging with the ‘world’,
remembering your cautions to ‘judge not’ or ‘cast the first stone’ 

This we ask in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

 

 Questions

  • Are there any circumstances when the separation of people is positive?
  • Jesus had much to say about rushing to judgement or condemnation. How can we avoid doing this when it comes to a person’s religious, political or cultural viewpoints and opinions?

 

 All-age activity

It is often argued that religion causes division rather than being a force for unity. Its detractors often point to the numerous flashpoints around the globe where it is a factor. In groups, take some time to consider when and where Christianity has been an undoubted force for good – bringing people together.

 

 Young people

Sadly, the world is full of people who have been separated from their families, friends and homelands due to their ethnicity or religious/political beliefs. Thankfully, there are several Christian organisations working to support them. Find out more about the work of Christian Aid,  Tearfund and Cafod; and in particular, how you might support their work in prayer and action.

 

Richard Reddie is the Director of Justice and Inclusion at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. He worships at St James (Church of England), West Streatham in London.

 

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