Ep.178: Sheep and Goats.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Matthew’s gospel, the last story Jesus told before his betrayal and crucifixion was a story about sheep and goats. 

For this story, Jesus didn’t use one of his standard story introductions, such as “Here’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. . . “ or “A man was travelling to Jerusalem. . .”  Instead, he began it like a prophecy of future events, saying, “When the Son of Man comes in glory, he will sit on his throne and all the nations will gather before him” (Mat. 25:31). 

The story is about judgement day and Jesus is the judge. He separates everyone into one of two groups, sheep or goats. Then he says to the sheep:
    Come, share my kingdom with me.
    For I was hungry and you fed me,
      I was thirsty and you gave me water,
    I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
      I was naked and you clothed me,
    I was sick and you took care of me,
      I was in prison and you visited me (Mat 25:35-36). 

The people in the sheep-group are surprised and say, “When did we ever do that?” And Jesus will reply, “Whatever you did for my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” 

Then Jesus will turn to the goat-group and say, “No reward for you. Depart from me forever. Because when I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, or sick, you didn’t help me.” 

And these people will say, “What? We never saw you in need.” And Jesus will reply, “But you saw my brothers and sisters in need, and didn’t help them.” 

This story raises the question, “Does Jesus teach that we are saved by what we do instead of what we believe?” It’s a good question because in the story, the sheep and goats are judged by their actions, not by what they say they believe.  

When Jesus taught on earth, he never provided a checklist of what we have to believe to be saved. After he rose from the grave and went back to heaven, lots of people over the centuries created lists on Jesus’ behalf. They wanted a clear statement of exactly what to believe. You might be familiar with some of these lists. The earliest ones like the Apostles’ Creed, stick mostly to story. Later ones like some Protestant Reformation statements include complex deductions from scripture, such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith. 

When Jesus was on earth, his approach to belief was not to give people a list of statements to agree with. Instead, he invited people to trust him, to believe him. The woman who touched his garment, Zaccheus up in the tree, the blind man shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, Nicodemus pondering about how to be “born again” — they were not signing up for a Bible 101 course about what to believe. They bypassed even the disciples and made  their appeal directly to Jesus, inviting him into the story of their lives.

I think Jesus’ story about sheep and goats affirms the option of a story-based approach to God, instead of a rational approach that says faith must begin with intellectual assent to a list of propositions. Like the people who listened to Jesus’ stories on earth, we too can approach Jesus directly. We can invite him into our story by asking him to help us. We can participate in his story by helping the poor and the hungry and the naked.

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we say we believe in you, and we have signed onto the best list we can find of Bible-based propositions.

But we are often in the goat-camp, looking for you only in the pages of scripture, and ignoring you in the crowded turmoil of life. Help us find to you in the poor and the hungry and the naked. O Jesus, take these narrow and selfish stories we live, and make them part of your grand story. 


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Ep.172: Bridesmaids, Wise and Foolish.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells a story about ten bridesmaids, waiting at the groom’s house for him to bring his bride to the wedding. When they found the bride, the groom’s companions would parade the bride and groom through town and country on their way home, choosing the route for friendly social impact instead of a carefully scheduled arrival. 

While this was happening, the bridesmaids talked themselves out, grew tired of waiting, and fell asleep. At midnight someone shouted, “The groom is coming!” The bridesmaids rushed to prepare their lamps, but only five of them, the wise ones, had enough oil. The other five said, “Hey, can you loan us some oil?” But the wise ones said, “We only have enough for ourselves.” 

While the five rushed out to buy oil, the bride and the groom arrived, started the party, and locked the door. When the five returned they knocked and said, “Please let us in.” But the groom replied, “Sorry, I don’t know you” and left them out in the night. 

Here are some observations on this story. 

First, it’s a story for our place in history. We are the bridesmaids, waiting for Jesus to return. But two thousand years and seventy generations of Christians later, there’s still no sign of his coming. Perhaps we need extra oil for our lamps.  

Second, all ten bridesmaids fell asleep, so in this parable, the point isn’t staying awake and watching. Jesus called some “foolish”, not because they slept, but because they didn’t carry extra oil to keep their lamps lit in case the party was delayed. Were they supposed to predict an unexpected delay and prepare for it?

Third, what does it mean for me to be waiting with a lamp, carrying extra oil in case the party is delayed? It’s an odd metaphor to layer onto my dog-walking, book-reading, video-producing, automobile-driving days. 

Fourth, When the five who went out to get oil returned to the party, why didn’t the groom open the door to them? Seems rather harsh. They solved their problem, didn’t they? They found the oil they needed. Did his “No” perhaps mean, “Not now. Come back tomorrow”? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, it’s been a long wait for Jesus’ return, two thousand years and counting. In that time, the Roman empire has fallen, the nation of Israel has disappeared and come back again. The religion of Islam has risen to worldwide prominence. The Christian church has split into Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant branches. The human race has worked miracles with technology–miracles of communication, agricultural production, entertainment and weapons development. But we haven’t solved the problems of evil and poverty and prejudice and war. 

So we continue to wait for your kingdom, Jesus, for your return. We are not world-movers; we are your humble servants. But we receive into our small lives the gifts you offer in your stories. Here is our mustard seed of faith. Here is our pinch of yeast in the bread you are making. Here is our supply of oil in the lamp of faith. 

Teach us to be like the wise bridesmaids, keeping a constant supply of the oil of your kingdom. Renew and replenish the motivation of our lives, the preparation of our hearts, the deepness of our trust, that will keep our lamps burning, ready for the great wedding party you promised when at last you return.  


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.