I’ve always found the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew chapter 25 uncomfortable. In this parable the sheep and goats are judged according to whether they have helped and cared for the marginalised, those who are hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison. In the parable Jesus tells the listeners that whenever they cared for one of these people, they were in fact caring for him, the king. It’s uncomfortable because it’s a reminder of how Jesus expects his followers to love others and how we may fall short.
In The Four Loves, Lewis discusses this parable and says that this kind of caring “apparently is Gift-love to God whether we know it or not”.
We can often feel as though we somehow deserve God’s love. As Lewis says “No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable.”
Lewis is clear that actually, we are not. We are no more lovable than anyone else, including the marginalised people we are called to love. We are all equally loved by God, not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are.
And if we love other people as God wants us to, we do this because God helps us to do so. “Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable… criminals, enemies… the sulky, the superior and the sneering.”
Lewis is pointing out the perfection of God’s love and is also showing how when we love those who we might naturally have difficulty loving, we are somehow mirroring in a small way God’s love. He has made it clear in the earlier chapters of the book that actually all our loves are imperfect or marred unless we allow God to help us love like He does.
In a chapter which at times seems quite complex, Lewis is pointing us to the ultimate Love.