Hans Harmakaputra, Visiting Assistant Professor in Comparative Theology and Muslim-Christian Relations at Hartford Seminary & Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow
The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: 31- 46 perplexed Christians because of its ambiguity. The text does not clarify who is the Son of Man and who are the sheep and the goats. For Christians who read the Bible literally and believe in the coherency of the Bible, in the sense of no contradiction exists between texts, this text is not their most favorable passage for explaining the salvation of Christians and non-Christians. On the other hand, the passage underscores the importance of human action in attaining salvation, which can be useful for more inclusive interpretations regarding non-Christians.
In the paper, I will focus on how different interpretations of the passage circulated within Indonesian Christian communities. As a minority living in the biggest Muslim population in the world, Indonesian Christians utilize the text creatively as a way to shape their identity as well as to define their relationship with non-Christians, especially their Muslim neighbors. In that regard, the Muslim popular understanding of Jesus/ʽĪsā as an eschatological judge informs Indonesian Christian interpretations too. Thus, the meaning of the sheep and the goats becomes a site of contestation between Indonesian Christian groups. In this contestation, its locus range from the ecclesiastical discourse, through sermons, Bible studies, and daily meditations, to the public sphere, such as Muslim-Christian debates, religious educational material in schools, and interfaith dialogues. The survey of different interpretations of the passage will convey how their status as a minority living among Muslims influence Indonesian Christians’ hermeneutical lens toward the Bible, perception toward non-Christians, especially Muslims, and their sense of identity.