Matthew 25:32-46 (New American Standard Bible)
32″All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34″Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 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 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to 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’And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
39’When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
40″The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
41″Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
44″Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
45″Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
46″These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
When I first read this part of the New Testament, I was under the guidance of a nun in Catholic school. To me, in my youthful exuberance of not knowing, this seemed to suggest such a mystical view of the world from a place most of get to see. The moral of the story to those entrusted with my religious education was simple: act like Jesus and show compassion and caring toward the world and you go to heaven. Act like the goat and go to hell.
At that time, I simply accepted that the moral of this story was that simple. Yet, there was something inside of me that begged to see it as more, to understand the story as well as the meaning from the perspective of the one who was telling the story. As I thought about it (a process that continues to this day), I wanted to understand what this would mean to someone who truly sees the universe for what it is in its suffering and in the condition we as humans Being have created within that universe.
Today, after enjoying nearly 30 years of experience since that lesson, I can see this from a perspective that I could not see as a young boy without that experience. The whole analogy makes perfect sense where before something did not sit right between what I felt and what I knew. Allow me to explain.
In this existence there are two types of people having their experience at any given time. On the one side, there are the sheep. They live a life of acceptance and purpose completely in harmony with the Love that created them. In this harmony they offer compassion to the world around them, they give to the world without judgment. In this harmony they experience the bliss of Love, and in doing so inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world. That foundation, of course, is Love.
The other type of person is the goat. The goat lives a life of ego, always striving to get more. They are so entangled in their quest for more and better that they do not have the time to show the world true compassion. They do not give of themselves to others, and they judge others from this perspective of ego. They are attached not only to the quest for things, but also to the things themselves. The result of these attachments is suffering, and in this suffering they cannot inherit the Kingdom. It isn’t that they aren’t worthy; it is simply a consequence of their lust devouring their attention from Love.
To me, it is that simple. There are no magical equations which you need to follow, no religion you need protest faith to in order to overcome this condition. The act of repentance is all that is needed. Now let me clarify. Repentance is not the simple act of asking for and receiving forgiveness. It is the recognition of the cause of your suffering, and the actions necessary to eliminate those causes from your existence. Saying “I am sorry” and having the person you offended replying, “You are forgiven” is NOT repentance. You need not seek forgiveness for the suffering you cause in others because you cannot cause suffering in others. They are the cause of their own suffering. What you can do is forgive yourself for the suffering you caused yourself (which is very likely the cause of suffering attributed to you in others) and remedy the cause of your suffering. You have then repented acting in complete harmony with Love, and in this action find the Kingdom of God is very near.
The amazing thing about this process is that while you may reduce or eliminate suffering in your own life that is not an automatic guarantee that you will eliminate it in those whose lives you touch. In fact, your own detachment from the things that cause suffering may very well cause suffering in others. This seems hardly possible, but those who are inflicted with the illness of ego will lash out at you for not sharing their affliction. Their egos see you as a threat to their cause, and react as any threatened animal would. These people will lash out, condemn you, and “kill” you or find varying degrees of punishment between.
As I share with you what I see in the passion of Jesus before and during his execution later, I believe you will see a great example of harmony with Love. As the story goes, Jesus accepted the “cup” but did not waver in his Love for those who so blindly and brutally inflicted their egos on him. This example is one that is a true litmus test for our own harmony with Love just as all great spiritual practices the world over provide. Could you forgive those who were brutalizing you even at the moment of impact? Such Love cannot be overlooked as extraordinary, it must be seen as something we should strive to make very ordinary.
I would also like to offer a perspective on the “heaven” and “hell” mentioned here. As we will dive into later, the way I was taught Heaven and Hell never seemed right to me either. The idea that there was some place my soul would be sent depending on what my mind and body did simply made little sense to me. I began to wonder, “What is paradise and what is suffering to a soul that seemed to feel neither”. Anyway, as mentioned I discuss this later but in the context of this story we see the parallels that could be easily drawn. As we act in a way that either makes us sheep or goats, there is always something called “consequence”. To the person who is being the sheep, that harmony with Love experience creates a state of Bliss. That Bliss, the state of grace created by the harmony we have with Love, is Heaven. It is the natural state of our soul, which is Love, experiencing itself in the presence of what it is not.
Hell, on the other hand, is the consequence of acting in accordance with ego much in the way the goats did in this story. The suffering, the pain, the anguish, the rage are all part of the consequence of those out of harmony with Love. Hell is the price you pay for living in ego, the results of attachments both made and completed in a world of things. It has been my experience (one that is ongoing even as I write this chapter) that one reason giving is a way out of this Hell is because is proves a detachment to things. You can only give what you do not have an attachment to and not suffer. Even as you give away that which you love you still suffer in the beautiful act of giving. You are still in Hell even though you are acting in accordance with Love because the attachment itself, not the things you are attached to, is the cause for this consequence. Things are not the issue, wealth is not evil, rather the attachment to it promotes an unhealthy relationship out of harmony with Love. It is not some great act of love to give away that which you are attached to, but rather a great act of love to not be attached in the first place.
In my experience, I have learned (and still continue to learn) to not love things. Sure, I enjoy playing with gadgets, getting stuff as fruits of my labors. Yet I am increasingly becoming detached from these things, as if I am saying “sure, I have them, but they don’t mean anything.” Yet, I find suffering in the loss of some things I have, or are not willing to part with others. This is my condition because I recognize I am not perfect, and this condition is not bad…it will just come with a consequence.
That is the one thing I take from nearly every experience I have: there is no such thing as “bad” except that which is judged by our egos. When I see something as bad, I realize immediately (or pretty darn close to it) that it is my ego talking. I then seek to watch the ego instead of become the ego. My mind can create anything as bad or good depending on its perspective at the moment, but Love simply sees it as what it is. As something occurs, my ego immediately determines the level of threat it feels and instructs the mind to create in it either good, bad or indifferent. My soul, my level of Being Love, just sees it. It is an experience to the soul, nothing more. To our Beings, everything our ego-minds judge as good or bad is necessary for the experience it seeks. Heaven and Hell are consequences our ego-minds must face as a result of our actions. As Love, our souls simply experience this consequence as necessary. This lack of judgment seems to be pointed out in the sentence “I was in prison and you came to Me.” Jesus seems to suggest here that he would be in prison just as a criminal would. This would also suggest that there is no judgment, no need for the rendering of punishment beyond what man deems necessary as consequence. When you are without judgment, someone in prison certainly is no more or less in need of your compassion and Love as is anyone else.
That leads me to a final point. I have wondered about the use of the word “eternal” in this story. It would seem to suggest that during this judgment we are doomed to an eternity of either Heaven or Hell. It does seem to make sense to me deep within me. Forgiveness seems to be the staple of Jesus’ message in the New Testament. Yet it would seem that this story would not provide for forgiveness. The contradiction rattled me for some time since it simply seemed to suggest that there would be a time when God and/or Jesus would no longer forgive, and an eternity of pain would be the consequence. This notion just did not sit well with what I felt to be right.
It dawned on me one day that eternity did not mean forever. Since our souls cannot suffer nor know time, what would be meant by eternity in this case? No, I did not investigate the translation of eternity, nor did I go to the original text for evidence of some truth. Rather, I just did what I always do when questions like this come up; I searched in the Word of God within me. It came to me suddenly one day as I was reading this passage and meditating on every line.
Eternity is the moment. At the very moment of consequence you are spending the eternity of that moment in Heaven or Hell. There is nothing beyond that moment, the present moment. The past does not exist within it, nor does the future. It is all that is or ever will be. It is eternity. Every action you are either being a sheep in harmony with Love or a goat in line with ego sure to experience the consequence provided you by that experience. As you experience the consequence in the now, you are either in heaven or you are in hell and you are in that condition for the eternity we call the present moment.
This life’s experience is a choice and a consequence for that choice all for the experience.
©2010 Thomas P. Grasso All Rights Reserved ☮ ℓﻉﻻ٥