Happy headbanging ape!!
I always have taken it as you describe. It's pretty straight forward. The part about his answer when they asked about "when have we..." kind of clinches it for me. There's nothing in that parable about having faith, just that helping others is helping Jesus/God and not doing so means you did not help God/Jesus. The harshness is, I think, just Jesus showing righteous anger as prophets often do. Modern social activists do the same at times. I think the key point is nowhere does he say that faith will save the goats nor does it help the sheep. It is their actions that matter here. Faith might have guided the sheep but it might equally have guided the goats. How often do we see Christian and other religious people turning their noses up at those in need for "not having sufficient faith" or "being fallen"?I do not understand why we cannot take the parable at face value and interpret it as saying that any service done unto people with intense needs is a service done unto Jesus.
Why do some people believe God or Jesus is so petty that people helping others have to declare that they are doing it to give glory to God? Is it not enough that they are acting as children of God should act? Why make God so needy and self-centered?
"Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”