The text for the week is here.

The Working Preacher commentary is here.

I commend the WP podcast to you!


If I were striving for a two-minute sermon this week, I would say, “In my years of preaching and pastoring, I have been asked about literal interpretations of scripture. How do we understand Revelation? When should we go ahead and pluck out an offending eye? How did Jonah survive in the belly of the whale? Will the ark ever be found? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? No one, and I mean not one person, has ever consulted with me on how to interpret today’s passage literally. No one has asked how many sandwiches, prison visits, coats for kids, or cups of water are sufficient. It is as though this passage and this one alone stands a clear metaphor. Metaphor for what? The people who always did the right thing and were never too busy or too tired or too broke or too afraid. Or the people who would have done the right thing if they’d known they were doing it for someone important. Literally, this passage is a parable in which Jesus is revealing to his disciples how faithfulness will be interpreted in the kingdom to come. Metaphorically, followers of the Way are learning how faithfulness is to be lived out in the kingdom at hand. We will all be sheep at some point. We will all be goats. Our hope is in the king who leads us to and meets us in every encounter. This is most literally true.”


There is so much angst in whether or not one will be counted among the sheep or the goats. Is it possible to draw back from the parable to look at it as part of the larger scope of world events? What does it mean to try to be sheep in a world that has become accustomed to permanent war? What does it mean to look for the presence of the king in the legislature and in the homeless shelter? How does a sheep wrestle with the double-edged sword of uncertainty in the face of great need? How do we learn to live with, as is said on the podcast, the reality that “Christ is in [everyone], but [everyone is] not always Christlike”?

Oh, so many places to go and so much to say. And it’s all leading to crucifixion (and beyond)! (Worst Buzz Lightyear phrase ever.)


What’s your take? Let’s chat in the comments below.



8 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Literal Interpretation

  1. Julia, I like your comment that no one has consulted you on taking this passage literally- it is obviously a metaphor. I think that, too, but once I used this passage as an example in a discussion with someone who does take the Bible literally and who was trying to convince me of how to be saved. and how to interpret scripture. I pointed out this passage as one where the sheep who are going into the kingdom aren’t aware of it, but they have been visiting people in prison and helping the poor. Next thing I heard, this friend had joined a jail ministry and is still doing that 15 years later. I think her intent was to live out this passage literally, to be sure to be among the sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My way in to this text came from friend who pointed out that in the mediterranean, you can’t reallydistinguish sheep from goats just by looking at them, and also both fulfil a very similar role in the “economy” – so if they look pretty much the same, and they all give milk, and go baah, and give wool – then how do we tell them apart ? By how they act… especially how they act when they’re not even thinking about it…


    1. I am so glad to know that I’m not alone on having a hard time distinguishing sheep from goats. When we first moved to New Mexico, our realtor drove us by what I took to be a goat farm. When I commented on it, she and my husband roared. They had never met someone who could not tell a goat from a sheep. However, if the sheep are shorn and the goats are not shaggy, it is a challenge to tell one from the other.


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