We need a better, wiser judge than ourselves. Who is that judge, according to Matthew's gospel? Throughout his Gospel, Matthew offers a rich array of titles for Jesus. Jesus is the Son of David (1:1), the royal Messiah who was proclaimed king at his birth and whom wise men came to worship (2:1-12). He is also the Son of God who has his origin in God (1:20), is proclaimed as God's Son at his baptism (3:17) and proves himself to be a faithful son in his confrontation with God's adversary, the Satan (4:1-11). He speaks of God as his Father and is the Son to whom the Father has delivered all things and who reveals the Father to others (11: 25-27). He is also the Son of Man who combines qualities of servanthood and suffering with majesty and exaltation. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (8:20), will suffer at the hands of those who do not recognize him (17:12), and will be betrayed into human hands and be killed before he rises on the third day rise (12:40, 17:22). The Son of Man also has authority on earth to forgive sins (9:6), is Lord of the Sabbath (12:8), is the Messiah (16:13-17), and will come to judge the earth and usher in God's kingdom (16:27-28).
This parable combines the paradoxical qualities of the Son of Man. He is the majestic, exalted Judge and King whose identity is hidden in the poor. We will be judged by the extent to which we see, have compassion, and act in response to his sufferings in the world. The parable calls us to evaluate our own actions, rather than deflect our energies to judging others, deciding whether they are sheep or goats.