“I have never felt so humiliated,” my colleague told me. I could remember many such instances in my own career, when I had struggled to like and even totally written off a student who later returned to thank me for my teaching. My colleague resolved from that moment never to give up on a student again.
“That’s just like what Ron said that time about the goats and the sheep,” my husband Kris commented.
Apparently, some fifteen years ago, our friend Ron had filled in for our regular pastor and preached about the passage where Jesus recounts how, at the last judgment, he will damn the goats who saw him hungry, thirsty, lonely, and imprisoned and did nothing about it and commend and welcome home the sheep who did. (Kris has an astonishingly explicit memory for things people talked about long in the past. It’s like being married to a tape recorder.)
In any case, Ron had been impressed with the sameness of the goats’ and the sheep’s response: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison…?” both groups wonder (Matthew 25:44 TNIV). And neither group has any memory of helping or not helping those in need—evidence, according to Ron, that the loving acts believers do may not be the ones they expressly set out to do so much as the ones God does through them unawares. My colleague, according to my husband, had believed in that student without even knowing it.
It’s a comforting thought: that God recoups what we mess up. That, even in our least loving moments, God might be using us to carry out some worthy task of love.