The Sheep and the Goats
By Alan J. Reinach, Esq.
In the nineteenth century, France wanted to send a gift to the United States to commemorate the centennial anniversary of our declaration of independence. Lady Liberty was a few years late, but was finally erected in New York Harbor in 1886. The famous inscription is found, not outside, but inside, a poem by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus." The poem reflects the fact that this nation was built and populated by immigrants, who were welcomed and valued:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Lady Liberty proclaimed world wide welcome to immigrants from every land. For millions of immigrants, their first glimpse of America as their ship approached New York harbor was the sight of Lady Liberty. My own great grandparents saw the statue as they approached Ellis Island, the intake port for so many immigrants.
Today, of course, the winds of public opinion have dramatically shifted. Where immigrants were once welcomed, now, they are feared. Immigrants are regarded as a threat to national security, potential terrorists. Immigrants are seen as a threat to our economic well being, taking our jobs, burdening our schools, our hospitals and our social services.
All this in a country that prides itself on being Christian.
Is America truly a Christian nation? If she really wants to be a Christian nation, if Americans want to be Christian, they would do well to heed the message of Christ, found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, beginning in verse 31: Turn in your Bibles and read along with me. It is the parable of the sheep and the goats.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 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, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers 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, 'I tell you the truth, 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."
This is not the only parable of the judgment. In Matthew 7:21 --23, in the famous sermon on the mount, Jesus declares:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
There will be many people who profess to be Christian, who think they are doing wonderful deeds in service of the Kingdom of God, who will be rejected in the judgment. Although they devoted considerable energy in what they thought was God’s service, they are described as workers of iniquity, evil doers. In fact, they do not know God. Knowing someone in the Bible is an intimate experience. The Bible says that Adam “knew” Eve, and she got pregnant. The Bible is not teaching that we must become physically intimate with Christ, but that we must know him intimately.
When we are in tune with the compassion and love of Christ, the natural response of our loving hearts will be to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, and yes, to take in the stranger.
Who is the stranger? In Luke, chapter 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the levite pass by the stranger, unconcerned for his plight, leaving him to die. Then, a Samaritan comes by, and stops to care for this wounded soul. Jesus tells this story in answer to the question, who is my neighbor? The Bible teaches us to love our neighbor. Leviticus 19:18.
The Samaritans and Jews were enemies. The Jews hated the Samaritans, and the Samaritans returned the favor. The priest and the levite treated a Jew, one of their own, as a stranger. But the Samaritan, an enemy, an outcast, a foreigner, treated the wounded Jew like a neighbor.
If, according to Jesus, a Jew and a Samaritan are neighbors and not strangers, then I suggest to you that in the eyes of Jesus, there are no strangers. There are only precious souls for whom Christ died.
If America aspires to being a Christian nation, we must begin by recognizing this very basic fact – that there are no strangers, no foreigners, no outcasts. We must change our attitudes and our laws.
America is, in fact, a nation of immigrants. A few years ago, there was a ballot proposition here in California that blamed immigrants for problems with our healthcare system, and our public schools and determined to deprive immigrants of access to hospitals and schools. A cartoon was published about that time picturing an American Indian chief, wearing a long feather head dress and carrying a protest sign, saying: “immigrants go home.” This cartoon illustrates that it is the height of hypocrisy for any American to harbor hostility against immigrants. We all came here from somewhere else.
The anti- immigrant sentiment that has been rearing its ugly head in America is of prophetic significance. In Bible prophecy, the final events on planet earth before the Second Coming of Christ climax with a final wave of persecution. Church and state unite to enforce the popular worship, and dissenters who believe and worship differently are singled out for economic exclusion and criminal prosecution.
Adventists tend to focus on the final manifestation of this persecution, the enactment of laws compelling Sunday worship. We overlook the processes that must develop leading up to this conclusion.
If we study the history of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, we can better understand how a group of people can be singled out for persecution. It begins with spreading fear and scapegoating. The Nazis preached the danger of the international Jewish socialist conspiracy. They spread fear, as they began to scapegoat and blame the Jews for the economic and social difficulties the Germans were facing. Over time, this leads to a separation, a perception of “us” against “them.” Before you can persecute a hated minority, you have to create a separate identity for them, so that they are first perceived as the “other.” They are not part of “us.”
Only when you have spread sufficient fear and hatred of this separate group can you begin to single them out for punishment and persecution.
This process is going on right now in the United States, but most of it don’t even see it. The enemy are immigrants generally, but especially, Islamic immigrants. Although here in California and the southwest, Mexican and other Latino immigrants have also become the enemy. The same spirit that generates hatred of immigrants will be the spirit that leads to the mark of the beast, and the hatred of a religious minority.
Immigrants feel this spirit every day when they enter the United States. Immigration officials at border crossings and airports do not treat people of color entering this country with basic human respect. Instead, guards too often indulge in insult, abuse and even violence.
It is the duty of all people of faith and good will to resist this spirit, to oppose it, to condemn it, and to confront those who harbor such shameful hostility. Let me close with a timely reminder from the apostle John, 1 Jn 4: verse 19:
We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
This cuts both ways. Racism is not the special sin of any one people group. The temptation to hate or fear those who are different, or those who have power over us, is a universal temptation. We all need the love of Christ in our hearts, to enable us to love our brother.
Who is our brother? Since Christ died for the sins of the whole world, then every man is our brother, and every woman is our sister.
Those who would serve Christ are called to live out this spirit of brotherly love and reconciliation, and to let their light so shine before men, that the light would banish the darkness of racism, hatred, discrimination and fear.
Before we close, we ought to reflect on how those who are treated as strangers, as unwelcome and unwanted should respond. One of the most misunderstood sayings of Jesus was his admonition to “turn the other cheek.” Too many interpret this as a command to become a doormat. Let them walk all over you. Don’t complain. Don’t stand up for yourself. Consider another possibility. The natural reaction to conflict is either fight or flight. We retaliate and fight back, or we avoid conflict and sweep it under the carpet. We run away. In the biblical peacemaking community, we call this peace breaking and peace faking. We either make the conflict worse by fighting back, or we fake the peace, pretending there is no problem.
Now do you see the problem? There must be a better way, and of course, Jesus points us to that better way in Matthew 18. Jesus teaches us to go to our brother and seek reconciliation, seek peace. This is what it really means to turn the other cheek. Be ready to forgive. Be ready to seek peace. Be ready to suffer harm, but whatever you do, don’t take it lying down! Do not return evil for evil, but do hold people accountable for their evil! In this way, you may just win your brother. Remember, the one who is hating you, rejecting you, harming you, treating you as a stranger – he is not a stranger to you, but he is your brother, a precious soul for whom Christ died.
Let us pray for the courage to treat everyone as our brothers and sisters, and not as strangers.