02 November 2005

A Radical Question

The Gospel reading from Matthew 25 - the sheep and the goats - a question that has bothered me for sometime is how can it possibly be that IF the sheep and the goats are those in the Church they could say to Christ: "When did we see you?" when we all know perfectly well that we meet our Lord in each and every person in need.

Could the "panta ta ethne" (all nations) here refer specifically to those who did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel? And yet who used the light of Christ (who enlightens every man coming into the world - John 1:4) to extend mercy to the suffering and whose sins Christ forgives?

I'm ducking, because I honestly don't know if it can be understood in this way. But it strikes me that in three parables of judgment in Matt 25 we might cover the church (the virgins), the pastors (the stewards), and those who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel?

PLEASE note that I am not saying this is so. I am asking if it could be so. And if so, could it illumine Romans 2 - with its "their thoughts sometimes excusing them" and Acts 17 - with its He is not far from anyone of us.

6 comments:

McCain said...

Pr. Weedon, I too have always found our interpretation, "They didn't even know they were doing good works!" explanation to be a bit too facile, a bit too convenient. Jesus told this little story and so, forevermore, in fact anyone who is familiar with it knows that they see Christ in those they aid in this life, so I've never quite understood the one interpretation I've heard so often. But I don't think I'm following your interpretation either. I mean, I don't understand it.

Chaz said...

I've been chewing on this one since Pr. Weedon and I talked about it on Wednesday. My answer still tends to be "no, it's not the way he's describing it," but I haven't done enough study to be sure.

The idea of this being addressed to two variety of Gentiles can find resonance in Matthew 18 and 28. I'm just wondering if there is anyplace besides the possibility of this text that Matthew uses ta ethne in a way other than "Gentiles" / unbelievers.

William Weedon said...

Passages that were also in my mind in this regard:

That was the true Light which lighteth every man coming into the world. - John 1:9

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. - James 2:14

And he hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far fromeveryone of us. - Acts 17:26,27


He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking* and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. - Romans 2:6-11


For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse **or even excuse them*** 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. - Romans 2:14-16

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting the possiblility of salvation outside the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Christ imputed to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments? I agree that God *may* choose to save anyone He so desires, for His mercy is indeed great! But is it for us to speculate or to confess?

William Weedon said...

I'm just trying to understand the text, perhaps especially wondering if James 2:14 is a commentary on it. God is a great Lover of Mankind, and while it would be heresy to teach the certainty of salvation outside the Church, it might also be heresy not to hope for it!

Rev. Jerome Gernander said...

Pastor Weedon,

I've never read the response of the sheep in this text as: We don't know the good works we're doing. I've read it as: They only know their sins, as Christians frequently do, and that is why they seek Christ in His means. They focus not on their works but on their Redeemer. The Law does its work on them, they see their sin, and they want to see their Savior. On the goats, the Law does not bring them to that. They do not sufficiently see their sins so that it would lead them to the fount of grace. My $.02