“My Sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.“John 10:27
Jen Hatmaker describes discipleship as a lifestyle obsessed with the broken members of the human tribe because in caring for the vulnerable, we move towards God. In Matthew 25:31-46, these disciples are referred to as righteous ones, more specifically, sheep–and they are called blessed as they have earned the Kingdom. Dorothy Day even goes so far as to say that Jesus “made heaven hinge on the way we act toward Him in His disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity.“ But anyone who has spent time consuming scripture knows how dangerous it can be to take a verse, or group of verses, without looking at those preceding it.
“Christian practice is not exhausted in outward deeds… A practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into the inner sanctuary–bringing the world into its light and the light into the world.”Thomas Kelly
If we read all of Matthew 25, we will see another parable in the very beginning–one that provides the necessary roots for the fruit of service. John Wesley highlights the message of this parable: “Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life.” Jesus tells about the Ten Virgins to magnify the importance of preparedness in order to gain the intimacy that is found at the wedding banquet. The five foolish virgins brought no oil for their lamps as they endeavored to meet the bridegroom. The five wise ones, however, were prepared–bringing the necessary oil and working to maintain the light in their lamps. They were the ones who entered the intimacy of the banquet because from this perseverance, they knew the bridegroom.
When Jesus answers the Pharises’ question as to which is the greatest commandment, He replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Roots are developed as we draw near to God by continually pouring oil into our lamps with prayer and the reading of scriptures. This is what propels us towards and sustains us in our care for Him in the “least of these”.
A friend of mine spent his life feeding the hungry, providing drinks for the thirsty, making room for the homeless, getting clothes for the naked, visiting the sick, and teaching those no one else would invest in. He poured into the lives of others at the expense of his own. Without the proper preparation to do the extremely difficult work he was doing, his oil supply ran out, and the roots necessary to maintain fruit that nourished was no longer available. He is now serving a twenty-year prison sentence. These were his words:
“My desire and need for intimacy only increased while my ability to suppress that need by pouring myself into my work decreased. It was at this point that I became burnt out… I had remained celibate for years, but after a long frustrating day, which I tried to wash away with rum, there came a knock on my door. He needed somewhere to sleep. I crossed the line, disregarding anything else in the world at that moment.”
We were created for intimacy. The sheep know the voice of the Shepherd from spending time with Him. They can then be led to the places where He hides in the vulnerable, and serve Him there–producing fruit that nourishes others. The first commandment is the greatest.
Unsplash photos by Liz Sloweiser & Samuel Martins