When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)
There’s no place like a rush-hour subway car in New York City to see, hear, and yes, even smell the diversity of the United States population. Here’s a snapshot from just one subway car on an ordinary Manhattan day: a grandmother murmurs in Chinese to her two young grandchildren, holding them close on her lap to avoid being separated in the crowd; a young woman, oblivious to the crush of people around her, leans against the door, reading a novel; a woman in Armani and heels holds to the overhead bar while trying to check her PDA; a college student in dreadlocks crams into the car with what appears to be an art portfolio; a shabbily dressed man who has clearly not bathed recently passes through the cars, hoping for a handout; two men who have loosened their expensive ties press into the already-full car, conversing in what may be Hindi; a couple of Midwest tourists in “I Love New York” t-shirts try to look casual as they study the map on the side of the car. Men and women; black, white, and all shades in between; English-speaking and non; glamorously rich and desperately poor–and that’s just one subway car in Manhattan!
Yet despite the wonderful diversity of humanity, there are ultimately only two kinds of people, which Jesus calls the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. He is describing the scene on Judgment Day, when we will see for ourselves what God already sees–that all humans can ultimately be separated into two categories. The people on that subway car come from myriad walks of life, but on the last day, they, like everyone, will be separated into two groups: those who will live with God eternally, and those who will be separated from God forever.
In his famous essay titled “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis observes that “There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” He also reflects on the fact that there are only two ways to spend the immortal life that we all have: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” Everyone will live forever; the only question is whether they will spend eternity in Gods presence with a glorious resurrection body, or will be separated forever from God and peace.
What does this mean for how we live our lives? Lewis points out that “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.” That’s a pretty serious statement! Every daily interaction, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can be a chance for the Holy Spirit to witness through us and our lives–or a missed opportunity, when our sinful nature gets in the way, or when we’re just plain too busy with our own concerns to take an extra minute to care for someone who needs to know Jesus love and ours.
Lewis also writes: “Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.” We spend so much time pursuing material things, which will pass away. People, on the other hand, will live forever. Does this tell us something about where our priorities should lie? Maybe the busy holiday season is the perfect time to re-evaluate our priorities and to start a new tradition of spending more time with people and less on things. When Jesus comes again in all His glory, we will suddenly realize that the only thing that really matters is whether we, and all the people we encounter every day, who are no mere mortals, hear our Savior say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34b).