We most often read these sorts of text with an eye to what the criterion is for being saved. However, this story isn't about a criterion so much as it is about a person. There is one person who will be making that call, and the story reminds us that although we can't see him among us, we encounter him every day. Our trust is not in ourselves and our ability to curry favor with him, but in the love and justice he has already demonstrated to us.
When reading this parable, what do you feel? Are you comforted? Disturbed? Reassured? Do you think the "goats" deserve eternal punishment? Or do you wish there was room for mercy? What emotions and principles drive your response?
If you could change the ending to this story, what would it be? What does that teach you about how God might respond to the sheep and the goats of this story?
Artwork: 'Shepherdess with Her Flock," by Eugène-Joseph Verboeckhoven, 1798-1881. From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55543. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eugene_Verboeckhoven,_A_Shepherdess_with_her_Flock.jpg.