Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison?” (Matthew 25:44).
In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, both groups of people ask the same question. When I was young, it was hard to see anything in this passage but the judgment on those deemed “goats.” My Christian walk focused solely on ensuring that I avoided that judgment at all costs. I did all the things I considered righteous, keeping my eye on that dividing line. I wanted to be on the right side of the story, and I subconsciously grouped people as sheep like me, or the soon-to-be banished goats.
But there’s a suggestion in this parable that the sheep and the goats aren’t as different as I was taught to believe. After all, they both ask Jesus the same question: “When did we see you?” Said another way, “We didn’t see you.” The story implies that it is possible to look into the face of Jesus as he appears to us in the suffering and struggling and to miss him entirely, even
if you consider yourself to be righteous.
I understand the surprise of those deemed the goats in the parable.
Sometimes what we consider to be our normal way of living can blind us to the presence of Jesus in our midst. As a former Anglican, I remain captivated by a line in the prayer of confession acknowledging sin as embodied in both “what we have done” and “what we have left undone.” I understand the surprise of those deemed the goats in the parable. Sometimes our sin hides right in front of us. We can’t always see “what we have left undone” because of the way things have always been.
For example, we have never known a time when the criminal justice system didn’t discriminate against the poor, Black and Brown folks, and even women. And we’ve never experienced a socioeconomic reality that ensures that everyone has enough food to eat and adequate shelter. Consequently, without our knowing it, injustice becomes the normal way of things, the backdrop to our daily lives.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways injustice toward LGBTQ+ individuals hides in plain sight for many of us. This is not a challenge to, or a question about, the Covenant’s theological conviction around LGBTQ inclusion. Loving our LGBTQ+ neighbors as ourselves involves rejecting situations of injustice that many of us would never find acceptable for ourselves. Too often, incidents of violence against LGBTQ+ people and the systematic exclusion of LGBTQ+ folks from the resources we all need to live, like jobs and housing, are met with head-shaking dismay and whispers, instead of the full-throated lament and acts of advocacy the Spirit calls us to. It’s Jesus himself facing this violence and being left without a place to rest his head. He’s the outsider in our midst. He told us so in Matthew 25.
I wonder if, in the eyes of Jesus, we’re both sheep and goat? Some days, we’re doing our part to welcome the outsider or those facing unjust circumstances. Other days, however, we embrace the comfort of being insiders, the majority, growing more and more numb to the ways LGBTQ+ injustice and systemic discrimination are becoming the backdrop of our daily lives. Perhaps our repentance for the sin of “what we have left undone” is continuing the work of learning to see Jesus, who told us he would come to us in the faces of all those pushed to the edges of our society, including people who are LGBTQ+.