The parable of the sheep and the goats is well known one yet how people decide who is a sheep and who is a goat has usually been decided without any reference to the actual parable itself.
People have decided who is a sheep or a goat based on what religion you follow, or whether you follow particular cultic laws or observe certain prohibitions. Others have decided that the difference between sheep and goats is how much faith you have, and at the more fundamentalist catholic and evangelical ends of the Christian spectrum, you are a sheep or a goat determined by what kind of Christian faith you follow. Human beings as a whole get endless fun from deciding who is in or who is out, and traditionally Christians on the whole haven’t been much different
The problem with all of these is that they are human projections onto a parable that says nothing of the sort about what club you belong to.
The only criteria by which God knows who is a sheep or a goat, and conversely the only way you really know God, is whether you have compassion or not.
In the examples given, which are by no means exhaustive, just representative examples, God knows whether you know him or not on the basis of whether you fed a hungry person, offered a drink to a thirsty man, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, or visited prisoners.
Whether you are a sheep or a goat is determined by how compassionate you are towards your fellow man. That’s what the parable actually says.
But for me, the far more interesting point, is why should we be compassionate at all? What premise is our compassion based on?
The way Jesus describes why we should be compassionate indicates an innate interconnectedness and in a beautifully poetic phrase he says “Just as you did it to the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me”. At a very deep and very real level what you do for one, you do for all, including yourself and including God. Separation from God is the illusion, communion is the reality.
The premise Jesus gives, if you understand him properly is that all creation, including all the people in the world are a part of the divine being – that nothing is separate from the divine being, and as such we are all one, we are interconnected. That is the true state of our existence.
This is exactly the point of what Paul, (or at least one of his followers), is saying in this letter to the Ephesians. In a beautiful phrase Paul prays that “God our father, may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation that our heart may be enlightened”.
So you see, enlightenment is not the sole preserve of the Eastern religions. Paul prays that we may be enlightened. Enlightened about what?
Well Paul then goes on to laud this great and immeasurable power of God, a power which he notes he put to work and revealed in the life of Jesus. This power of immeasurable greatness, which raised Jesus from the dead, is within all of us, which connects all of us.
That is the only basis by which Paul can call the church “the body of Christ”, because the church here represents the extent, humanly speaking, in which this revealed truth is known and realised – that God fills everything and connects everything. Paul puts it like this, “the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”
Compassion has its source in connection and empathy. Jesus and Paul both point out that “connected” is what we most truly and deeply are. Realising the fact is a work of God’s power working within you and leading you to this enlightened state. From darkness to light, from spiritual death to life in all its fullness.