By Debbonnaire Kovacs
In Matthew 25:31-46, we find the familiar story of the sheep and goats. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he is depicted as sorting “all the nations” into two groups: the sheep and the goats. The division in this story is made solely on the basis of their treatment of those who are “hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, or in prison.”
I suddenly realized something on this reading—where are the “least of these”? This grouping shows only those who served or didn’t serve. Where are those who were served? Here’s where my imagination went:
I was a child, seven years old. I lived in the streets of Kolkata in 1813. My stomach used to growl, but not anymore. It was so unused to food that it took emptiness for granted. I had given up, too. I sat by a wall, staring vacantly at nothing, my arms and legs like sticks. You stooped down beside me, and you gave me rice. I will never forget your eyes.
Where do I stand? Because of you, I lived. Because of what I saw in your eyes, I fed others. I stand with the sheep.
I was an angry young man in England in 606. My family had been killed in barbarian wars. All I wanted was vengeance. I learned to fight, and I did it well. I killed many barbarians. Then I killed the wrong man, a man with power. I huddled in a dungeon, waiting to die, eating nothing but my bitter fury day after day. You came day after day. I hurled curses. You prayed. I spit on you. You spoke gently to me. I was never so furious as the day you made me break down and cry.
Where do I stand? Because of you, on my way to die I looked with compassion on the hangman. Astonished, I stand with the sheep.
I was a young girl in the Appalachian foothills in 2012. I had only rags to wear, or so it seemed to me. You came and brought bags of clothes, nicer than any I’d ever seen! When I wore them, I was almost beautiful. I found a man, had a child, lost the man, found another. If I could only find one with money, I could buy really nice clothes.
Where do I stand? I grew to depend on the resources of outsiders. You had so much! You could keep giving to me, it wouldn’t hurt you. I fought another woman at a table of used clothes. She didn’t deserve it like I did. I stand with the goats, but I don’t know why. It’s not fair!
I was a woman who lived in a Bedouin tent in northern Africa in 1976. We had no water except the wadi we shared with our camels. My children were often sick. You came. You worked with us to dig a clean well. The water tasted strange. It was so clear and so cold.
Where do I stand? Because of you my family lived and grew strong. We shared our water with all the travelers who came our way. I stand with the sheep.
I was an old man, lying in a hospital in Chicago in 1998. I had the best doctors, the best drugs. They were “doing all they could.” That’s what they would say. Maybe it was true, but it wasn’t enough. I was dying. You came and sat beside my bed. You didn’t offer empty platitudes. Just your presence. Your hands. Your tears. We shared the same air, you and I. Miraculously, I got better.
Where do I stand? After my recovery I used part of my fortune to found a new clinic. It helped many people, and I’m glad. I got the best doctors, the best drugs, the best treatments. But here’s what helped me. Every day, I sat with the sick and offered my presence, my hands, my tears. I stand with the sheep.
I am a man/woman, living in __________, in 2014. I moved to a new home/church/job, where I knew no one. I was a stranger, uncomfortable and feeling timid, even though I’m really not that timid usually… You came. You smiled and spoke kindly to me. You showed me where the copier/bathroom/break room was. You asked me about myself and my family. You listened.
Where do I stand? After you came into my life, I _________________
[Author’s note: This is a choose-your-own-ending story.]