Matthew 25:41-46 (NIV) “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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’
“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?’
“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.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The fate of those on Jesus’ left, the goats, is not positive at all. Jesus’ initial words to them are to depart into eternal fire, the fire that had been prepared for the devil and his angels. This probably shocked the goats. Like most people, they probably would have described themselves as good people, perhaps not “holy,” but as good as anyone, and better than some.
But Jesus doesn’t grade on a curve, with some hypothetical cutoff point, so that a certain percentage of people get through no matter what. His standard is righteousness and love that are driven by a relationship with Him.
The same examples of opportunities are given as He had presented to the sheep. But in this case, the opportunities had been missed entirely. These people had passed by Jesus when He was in need of food, clothing, and shelter. They had ignored Him when He was sick and in prison.
Just like the sheep, the goats were confused. They had passed by several people in need, but they were sure that they would have never passed by Jesus if they had seen Him in need. But Jesus took neglect of those in need as neglect of Himself, because that neglect betrayed a lack of love in the hearts of these people, which in turn betrayed a lack of relationship with Him from which agape love naturally flows.
As with the sheep, the actions (or lack of actions) by the goats shows their character, and their character determines their destiny. They are doomed to an eternity separated from Jesus and from all that is good, in stark contrast to the righteous, who are rewarded with eternal life.
Father, how many of us go through our days heedless of what is going on around us, and of the opportunities to show Your love and Your grace that You provide on all sides of us. And how many of us stop to realize that our awareness, our decisions to act or to not act when we do see needs, have eternal consequences. Give us eyes that truly see, and hearts that are immediately responsive to the people and needs around us. Amen.