As I was doing my daily Greek reading I came across this parable. The style in which it has been presented was of particular interest to me. The parable is framed in verses 32-33: “And all the nations were gathered before him, and he divided them from one another, just as the shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep from his right hand and the goats from his left.”
The narrative progresses to the inciting incident (v. 34), in this case a speech: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, blessed ones of my Father! Inherit the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Why do those one the right side inherit the kingdom which has been prepared from the foundation of the world? The narrative provides the reader with a rather lengthy section describing the basis for the entry of the sheep:
“For I was hungry and you gave to to me to eat; I was thirsty and you give to me to drink; a stranger was I and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me; I was weak and you visited me; in prison was I and you came to me.”
And the righteous ones respond. Matthew has tactfully associated the sheep on the right hand with the attribute of righteous(ness).
“The the righteous ones respond saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and we fed (you), or thirsty and we gave (you) drink? And when did we see you as a stranger and we welcomed (you), or naked and we clothed (you)? And when did we see you weak or in prison and we came to you?”
Notice that though the response of the righteous is about the same length as the King’s statement, a narrowing effect has taken place. The pronoun (you) has elided. This might not be a big deal if the narrative as a whole did not act as a funnel.
“And responding, the King will say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, ‘For as much as you did for the least of one of these my brother, you did for me.’ ‘ “
Finally, in verse 41 we reach the climax. The King addresses those on his left, the goats.
“The he will say to those on his left, ‘Go from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.”
[an aside: While this point is not particularly relevant to the thrust of this post, I thought it might be interesting to note that the words διαβόλῳ and ἀγγέλοις αὐτου occur here. That is to say, both words are in the dative case…is it prepared for or by the devil and his angels?]
Continuing the King says, “For I was hungry and you did not give to me to eat; I was thirsty and you did not give to me to drink; a stranger I was and you did not welcome me; naked and you did not clothe me; weak and in prison and you did not visit me.”
This is almost word for word what is said in 35-36. The last clause is the only exception. “Weak” was previously a participle; now it is a noun. Also, “weak” and “prison” have been combined to make up one compound subject, which is part of one (not two) clauses.
“Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or week, or in prison and we did not minister to you?”
Notice, they are not called righteous. Also notice that those on the left respond in the same manner as those on the right. While all of the same components are present in this question, it has been condensed. It is hurried. Why does Matthew take great pains to produce this list with only slight variations throughout the entirety of the narrative, but hastily moves through it here? Could he be displaying their (the goats) lack of concern for the least of these?