Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:26-38, Divine Providence #96:5 (see below)
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Today we visit with King David, just after he has defeated the Philistines, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and settled into his new reign as king. David finally receives a break from war, and turns his mind to how he can glorify the Lord. He decides that it is time to build a temple for God, for the ark still remains in the tabernacle as it always has, essentially in a tent.
David clearly has good intentions. He has been faithful, he has battled hard for the Lord, and surely now the time would be right to erect a monument to God, to place his people’s most cherished possession within a building that reflects its value in earthly terms.
But the Lord sends a message to David via the prophet Nathan, and asks: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? There is much contained within this one sentence of gentle chiding. God draws David away from any grandiose plans he might have had, and reminds him that God has never asked for a grand temple. God has been present through every step of the People of Israel’s journey and will continue with them. That has never been in question. God instead turns the question to David’s purpose and inclination.
Though David has a rest from battle now, throughout the rest of the book of 2 Samuel, he will be plagued with challenges, many of his own making. Part of what makes David such a relatable and beloved character is that he is both flawed and faithful; he is powerfully human. And perhaps this explains the Lord’s response. David will have plenty to contend with in the coming years. Very soon he will greatly displease the Lord by committing adultery with Bathsheba, and deliberately putting her husband in harms way. The Lord knew that David had some very different building he needed to do. David had faith already; what he needed to do was build his own ability to live according to that faith.
Swedenborg writes that a building houses in the word can metaphorically relate to the building of our own willingness and intentionality.(1) David had brought much glory to the Lord already in battle, had brought together the tribes of Israel and made them into a powerful nation. He knew what God had done for him and his people, he knew the truth of God’s power and steadfastness, and he believed in it deeply. But he had not integrated that belief with his actions in a personal way.
In the Word the good that exists with a person is compared to 'a house', and for that reason one who is governed by good is called 'the House of God’.(2)
David wanted to build a literal house for God, which was a fine idea, but he had forgotten about building a house for God out of his life. Even as he ruled, he would often govern by what was best for him, rather than being governed by what was best for others.
And this why it would be David’s son, King Solomon, who would build the temple. David had established himself as a king through war, whereas the name Solomon is derived from the Hebrew word for “peace.” An adversarial mindset cannot build a house in which God can be worshiped. David even delivered Solomon detailed plans for the temple. But goodness and peace and love must build the temple. For love followed-through-on is what builds the house, the structure, the habits, the perspectives, in which God is truly worshipped, not just our ideas about what is good. We build the temple, the temple of our lives, day by day, when we are able to focus on embodying love to those around us, leaving the world just a little better than we found it; this is how our selfhood becomes a house in which God is glorified.
It is tempting to default to a sense that David was not “good enough.” But that is not what it is about. It is not about earning our salvation, brick by brick. It is about recognizing that we are progressively transformed by the steps we take on each of our journeys. When God asked: “Are you the one who would build me a house to live in?” it is not meant to be framed as a rhetorical measurement, but rather as a reflection; did David understand what building God a house would mean? Fr. Richard Rohr writes:
We all tend to aim for the goal instead of the journey itself, but spiritually speaking, how we get there is where we arrive. The journey determines the final destination. If we manipulate our way, we end up with a manipulated, self-made god. If we allow ourselves to be drawn and chosen by love, we might just end up with the real God.(3)
And this why the temple was not important to God, why God never asked for it to be built. To God, the covenant was the thing that was important, and the covenant was just as active and relevant in a tent as in a temple. God was interested in how faithfulness to the covenant might lead each person might bring glory to God in their own hearts, minds and lives.
This will be brought into an even fuller representation by Mary, betrothed to a descendent of David himself, many hundreds of years later, when her body would actually build a space for God to dwell inside. By this time the temple David had proposed had long been built, and was the center of Jewish life in Jerusalem. Surely the Lord must have been content with that grandest of buildings? But no, this is the point, of course. It is God's intent to dwell with us, personally, in the fullest of possible ways. The Lord does automatically dwell with us, inherently, within our will and our intellect, and the freedom that exists there.(4) This is how we are all images and likeness of the Lord. But God is not content to dwell like a boarder in the guest room, but wishes to dwell as someone who shares the life of the household. The fullness of God’s dwelling with us, the efficacy of it, the realness of it, depends on our response. When God reaches out, what do we do?
This time, Mary’s answer to the question Are you the one to build me a house to live in? was a resounding yes! Her song that follows our reading for today, known as The Magnificat, makes clear that she understood what the coming of the Lord would mean, in her own life, and in the life of the whole world. She said: I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled. None of us will be called to build an actual temple, or to gestate the incarnation of God, but we are called a mystical embodiment of God’s love nonetheless. We all place a plank in our own house of God every time we try to bring some goodness into the world. This is the kind of worship that God cherishes.
God’s question to David really is the most perfect of Advent questions: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? May we receive the question as David, hearing any gentle chiding that we might need to hear, any adjustments to our perspective that need to me made, any follow-through to which we need to commit, any hypocrisy we need to abandon, any stubbornness we need to let go of, any indifference we need to relinquish.
And may we hear also the question as Mary, as one who would say yes, yes to opening our minds wide for the coming of the Lord, yes to how that will stretch and grow our hearts, yes to building a dwelling place for God deep within us, a home where our very life is worship, a house where every moment is praise. Amen.
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." 3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you." 4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me ; your throne will be established forever.’ ”
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Divine Providence 96:5
The reason the Lord dwells in these abilities [our will and our intellect] in each of us is found in the inflow of the Lord's intent, an intent that wants to be accepted by us, to make its dwelling within us, and to give us the happiness of eternal life. This is the Lord's intent because it comes from his divine love. It is this intent of the Lord that makes whatever we think and say and intend and do seem to be our own.
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 1:14-20, Heaven & Hell #59 (see below)
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With today’s text, we are near the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Jesus has recently been baptized by John the Baptist, and then spends some time in temptation in the wilderness. Now, as John’s time in prison is foreshadowing the price that is to be paid for challenging the powers-that-be, Jesus steps into the public domain and begins his ministry. He starts by calling two sets of brothers to follow him. They are fishermen, and they *immediately* lay down their nets and follow Jesus. The greek word euthus, translated variously as “at once” or “immediately” is a favorite of Mark’s, and he uses it often. It lends an urgent tone to his narrative overall, where things seem to happen at a rapid pace.
Let us think for moment about the disruptive nature of what these brothers did. Fishing was their livelihood; the livelihood of their families. In another 10 verses or so, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, so clearly at least Simon was married and likely had children. There would have been a clear expectation about how these brothers would fulfill their responsibility to the family business. Yet, James and John literally leave their father, Zebedee, in the boat. Certainly we can imagine his puzzled expression, trying to wrap his head around why they would leave him to follow this nobody from Nazareth, without so much as a goodbye, or an explanation.
Let us now contrast this story with that of Jonah. Our text from today is pretty much the only part of the Jonah story that goes well. Jonah is famous, not so much for proclaiming God’s word, but for running away from God’s call. It is a well-known story. God asks Jonah to go to Ninevah, a large Assyrian city, to tell them to repent or they will be destroyed. Assyria at this time, was Israel’s number one enemy. So, Jonah says “no way” and hops on a ship going in the opposite direction. But the story says that God sends a storm to threaten the ship, and so Jonah eventually comes clean and allows himself to be tossed overboard so that the storm will stop. He is then swallowed by a big fish and remains in its belly for three days and nights. When it finally spits him up on dry land, Jonah agrees to go to Nineveh. To Jonah’s dismay, the Ninevites repent immediately and are spared, as we hear in the text. And Jonah is enraged. He feels like a fool, for he suspected this would happen. He says at one point: “I am so angry I wish I were dead.” Such a drama queen. But the Lord asks him (and the story itself ends brilliantly on this question) why should God not have a concern for a city comprised of 120,000 people? Why not indeed.
So, in one story we see the brothers drop their net and stride with purpose away from the ocean. In another, Jonah ends up jumping into the ocean. One to become “fishers of men” and the other “fish food.” What else is different about these two stories? Certainly, the brothers followed God’s call right away, and Jonah did not. But neither will have an entirely straightforward path. The disciples will make many mistakes, including —a biggie—abandoning Jesus at the cross. This seems just as big a betrayal as Jonah’s reluctance, and Jonah did eventually do what God asked of him. Discipleship is clearly a winding path, with some successes and some failures. So I’m not sure it helps us to think that the brothers were perfect in their response and Jonah delinquent. Rather, I find it more interesting to explore the conditions surrounding their call. Even as much as the brothers were leaving the expectations of their context, they did not leave their context entirely. They dropped their nets and went away from social expectations but went into community. The brothers were with each other, they journeyed with Jesus in a group of disciples, and the bible tells us in the same chapter, returned to Simon’s house to heal his mother-in-law of a fever. In fact, they encamped there at Simon’s house to heal many many more people. As itinerant as this rag-tag band was, the gospels are filled with accounts of meals together in houses, of crowds gathering together to hear the good news, to be healed, to be fed. Even at the end, at the resurrection, it is Mary Magdalene and Salome, and Mary the mother of James, wife of poor puzzled Zebedee, who go together to anoint Jesus’ body. Jesus and the disciples are surrounded by layers of community, each stepping up when the other could not. Yes, they went out, they responded to the call, but not in a way that severed their connections to each other.
But Jonah, throughout his story, seems entirely alone. Entirely alone in his truancy, in his distress, in his proclamation, and in his anger. There was no brother to assist him in his preaching, no family to help him countenance his reluctance, or process his anger. The belly of a fish held him fast as he repented of his desertion, but it is a poor substitute for the arms of a community. And it is true that a prophet and a disciple are called to different things. There is an aloneness to the prophetic voice that is perhaps unavoidable. But, we can also sense that Jonah’s pouting and his anger made him more alone than he needed to be. And sometimes, isn’t that how our challenging emotions make us feel? Our shame, our regret, our anger, our resistance gives us a kind of tunnel vision. We are reduced to nothing but that feeling and it is hard to see anything more. I’m sure we can all think of times when this has been he case for us, when our overwhelming feelings have led to a sense of social isolation.
But what if it doesn’t need to be that way for Jonah or for us? What if Jonah had had community surrounding him? What might that have looked like? How do *we* make community for the Jonah parts of ourselves, for the times when Jonah rises up within us? When we want to run, when we want to hide, when we doubt, when we rage, when we cry. How do we enfold the disruption of God’s call, of God’s challenge to our status quo, within the structure of community?
I read a quote this week from Professor Karoline Lewis, a quote that I know I really needed to hear:
“Sometimes, I think we forget that being saved by Jesus, to follow Jesus, means that you have others around to save you on a daily basis. To remind you of who you are and who you are called to be. To see you and appreciate you and celebrate you. To tell you how far you have come and where God still needs you to go. To come alongside you so that you realize you are not alone.
She continues: When Jesus calls the disciples in Mark, notice what’s absent -- no individualism, no being left on your own, no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. No, “you can handle this, so, buck up, buttercup.” No, “follow me and good luck with that.” Rather, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” That is, follow me and more followers are to come. Follow me and you will never be by yourself. Notice -- Jesus calls them together, not separately. Andrew and Simon. Then James and John. Discipleship is not an autonomous profession.”(1)
In discipleship, God calls us into community. And this is really important because to do what Jesus asks, as in verse 14, Repent and believe the good news, we need other people. As I preach over and over, spiritual work can be hard, scary, exhilarating, exhausting….and changing the way we think, trusting in the goodness of the world, all of these thing are harder done alone than with companions. God calls us into community, so that when we are asked to do the things that are difficult, and the Jonah parts of us rise up, we can stay with it. We might feel like we deserve to be in the belly of a fish, but we have a community to tell us differently. Being in a community doesn’t protect us from failing; from pouting like Jonah or constantly not understanding what the kingdom is about like the disciples. But the resurrection, God’s ultimate statement about the existence of a universe that stands for life, and growth and transformation, this brought the disciples back into community, and they went on to form christian community around the world, and through the ages.
Now, Swedenborg doesn’t really tell us a lot about the phenomenon and practice of Christian fellowship. He writes a little bit about how a church should function ecclesiastically and about the responsibilities of its leaders, but not so much about walking together in Christian community, about “doing life together” in modern Christian parlance. What he does write about, a lot, is of course, heavenly communities. In Swedenborg’s worldview, heaven consists of countless communities of the heart, people joined together in fellowship because of the similar loves that they share. All these communities have different roles and functions, and they fit together in a cooperative and inter-related manner like a human body. Swedenborg calls this the Grand Human. The greater Christian world has a similar idea applied to the church: the body of Christ.
Community and inter-relatedness are part of the divine design. The theologian Brian McLaren writes: Although you can learn beliefs in isolation, you can't learn love apart from a community.(1) Whether it is through communities of family, work, church or other, we need other people in order to learn how to love, to challenge us, to hold space for us, to trust us, to believe in us. The God of Divine Love would have it no other way. And as we stand on the precipice of a holiday devoted to gathering for the purpose of thanksgiving, let’s us praise a God who made us for each other.
(2) Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration, p56
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Mark 1: 14-20
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Heaven and Hell #59
The Whole Heaven, Grasped as a Single Entity, Reflects a Single Individual
It is a secret not yet known in this world that heaven, taken in a single all-inclusive grasp, reflects a single individual. In heaven, though, nothing is better known. Knowing this, knowing particulars and details about it, is the hallmark of angelic intelligence there. In fact, many other things follow from it and do not come clearly and distinctly to mind without this as their general principle. Since angels do know that all the heavens, like their communities, reflect a single individual, they refer to heaven as the universal and divine human -"divine" because the Lord's divine nature constitutes heaven.
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-46, Matthew 25:31-46, The Doctrine of Faith #68, Divine Providence #101:3 (see below)
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Photo by Magda Ehlers
In the gospel of Matthew, this story of the sheep and the goats will be the very last teaching that Jesus delivers before the plot against his life is put into motion and the march toward the cross begins. One imagines then that it is a pretty important teaching. We start out with a depiction of the coming of God’s kingdom, where there will be separation between kinds of people, pictured as the work of a shepherd. The sheep are those who ministered to others, not as a way to receive reward, but because it was the right thing to do. The goats are those to whom such ministry did not even occur. Both are surprised that their action, or lack of action, would mean something to God…but God reveals that God is present with those in need, with the “least of these,” and that how we act has relationship to who we become.
Technically, this story is less of a parable, than it is an apocalyptic drama. In a parable, we begin with a familiar setting which is then tweaked a little in order to bring a new understanding, to demonstrate something about the nature of God’s kingdom. In this case, we first start with a description of what is going to happen in God’s kingdom, and then it is revealed by what means this will come to pass, through the grounded and familiar acts of caring for one another. This is actually what the word apocalypto in greek means: to reveal. In modern use the term has become associated with an idea of endings, but really, an apocalypse is simply a revealing, a lifting of the veil. What makes this lifting of the veil so powerful is that what we see behind the curtain is not otherworldly but decidedly earthly, the intersection of need and brokenness with compassion.
Now, understandably, the Matthew passage will lead us to focus on our actions, our process, as we imagine ourselves as either sheep or goat. But first, I’d like a step back and recognize how this parable is a larger picture of God’s work in the world. I would like to dwell for a moment on the king in the story, the one who recalls the image of shepherd in Ezekiel, the one who reveals his own solidarity with those who are in need.
From our reading today, indeed from the whole of scripture, we learn that loving God is inseparable from loving others. This is because we cannot love God without loving the character, the nature of God; and the nature of God is pure love. In Ezekiel, we see this nature pictured in God as a shepherd, a God who cares about his flock. In this picture, we learn that God notices and identifies with those who suffer. God is with us, among us, traveling with us. God is affected by our suffering, doesn’t want it to continue. God wants healing, wholeness, blessedness, plenty…and not for God but for US. We must remember again, that this was a very new concept in antiquity, that such a God could exist. Yet this is every human’s story: We find ourselves in exile or in need, we are lost sheep, yet God seeks for us, looks for us, bring us out of what is enslaving us, feeds us and cares for us. The exile might be due to our own sin, or it might not, but God’s presence does not depend upon the genesis of the suffering. God’s action may well change in response to different conditions, for a sheep wandering into a ravine on it’s own will require a different response to a sheep falling prey to a wolf, but the response of God’s heart is the same regardless; to reach out and to save.
And so as we begin to approach the Advent season, we can see that the incarnation we will soon be celebrating is grounded in this kind of God, this shepherd God who tends and guides and protects. We are about to learn just how far this God would go. How far God would go for the hungry, the thirsty, the estranged, the entrapped, the vulnerable, for us. God would go as far as it took. God embodied, quite literally, this parable and calls us to do the same.
And how easy it sounds, how poetic, these well known verses. How peaceful and pastoral this shepherd image might seem. But anyone with a knowledge of farming will understand how messy shepherding really is. How down and dirty one must become. How acquainted with mud, and food and weather and birthing and physical exertion. And this is when everything goes right! How difficult shepherding becomes, how difficult caring becomes, when we are afraid of each others brokenness.
What struck me today, though, was the fact that both the goats and the sheep were surprised. This surprise is important, narratively. It’s purpose is to communicate that the sheep were not calculating - they did not care for others in order to get into heaven, they cared because they were moved by suffering. And for the goats, it is to communicate that thoughtlessness and self-absorption is not protective. Just because the goats did not cause the suffering of the least, does not mean their inaction was morally neutral. To quote the author Charles M. Blow: One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.
And yet, of course, no one is purely sheep or purely goat. We all have sheep-y and goat-y tendencies, habits and impulses mixed up together. And now that the gospel has been proclaimed, now that we see this reality of what could be, we are called to exercise a ongoing separation of the sheep and the goats within ourselves. We are called to recognize the times we do not want to see the least, the times we shut our eyes, the times we justify our blindness, the times we argue that some people and things are just too hopeless to be resurrected. And, we are likewise called to recognize the times we *do* see with God’s eyes, the times we are moved to feed, house, bind, connect, the times we recognize God in the least, God connected to the world. And hopefully, in recognition of the king who acts like a shepherd, of a God who would get down in the mud, we call on our goat-y-ness to be transformed, and we do the work that would make it so.
Where then is the surprise? Is there still room for surprise in the ongoing work of regeneration? In spiritual work, driven as it is by reflection and self-knowledge, surprise seems impossible. If we are trying to become like the sheep, it will not surprise us if we do become so. The thing about having a progressive theology of salvation, about recognizing that the sheep and goats are parts of all of us, is that the simple and instant judgment of the text today is revealed as a snapshot…the whole point is for the goats to become sheep-in-training, just as we strive to become angels-in-training. And so the surprise becomes less a pre-requisite for a sheep-nature, but rather the reward. To quote Helen Keller “there is joy in self-forgetfulness.”
If heaven is a state of mind, a state of being, then perhaps the surprise is the peace and freedom that comes from not calculating anymore, from being able to finally forget our selfishness and fear. If heaven is a state of mind, then we must accept that, to get there, our goat-like minds will change over time, and we are an ongoing construction project. We heard in our Swedenborg reading today “life constructs a belief system for itself and constructs a faith for itself.” To me this sounds a lot like neuroplasticity, a term meaning the ability of the adult brain to change over time, that our experiences and actions can contribute to the alteration of the synaptic structure of the brain.
Our life over time constructs the way we understand things. The sheep were surprised because their actions had re-made them. They had acted their way into a new way of thinking. When the veil is lifted on the kingdom, we will see that we cannot escape the imperative toward action through right or pure belief, for the answer does not begin thought at all. The answer is compassion, literally “feeling together,” the answer is connection, first and foremost.
Transformation of the self is possible. What an amazing, simple, breath-taking hope…a hope and a faith that leads us straight into Advent, where a God believed in us so strongly that God would reach so far, straight into the heart of our vulnerability, our need, our blindness. Because the fact is, as we are now, sometimes we are the sheep, sometimes we are goats, many times we ourselves are the least, in body or spirit. We find ourselves on all sides of the equation, mired in suffering and need. And so was God. God was, and is, both shepherd and lamb, redeemer and sufferer, teacher and baby, both the king and the least. And for this we are grateful. Amen.
11 “ ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. 17 “ ‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 20 “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The failure of caring in the people described in Matthew shows that goats mean people who are devoted to a faith divorced from caring…A neglect of deeds is characteristic of people who are devoted to a faith divorced from caring because of their refusal to believe that deeds have anything to do with salvation or the church. When people so set aside caring—which consists of deeds—then faith fails as well, because faith comes out of caring…
Divine Providence #101:3
In the spiritual world where we all arrive after death, no one asks what our faith has been or what our beliefs have been, only what our life has been, whether we are one kind of person or another. They know that the quality of our faith and the quality of our beliefs depend on the quality of our life, because life constructs a belief system for itself and constructs a faith for itself.