Friday, February 21, 2014

Sheep and Goats

The Sheep and the Goats -- Matthew 25:34-40

The righteous and the unrighteous are separated and labelled sheep for the former) and goats (for the later).  Did this guy's mother never tell him not to call people names?  

I think of John L. who is a man who lives amongst the homeless and considers himself their advocate. This is his FAVORITE verse and he is more than happy to tell you his exegesis of this passage: Church people who don't give up their homes and move into homelessness are goats and are going to burn...   Until I met John, this passage had much redeeming social value for my liberal do-gooder soul.

The passage is about kindness and generosity. Kindness toward the less fortunate, or does luck have anything to do with it?  Are they just inept, or lacking in some essence of common sense or "normalcy," or are they the rebellious, the boundary crashers, the willful children who have gone awry?  Kindness toward them just the same... But why?  If it is their own fault?  Should not consequences fall on the sinners, the penalty for mistakes?

"What mistakes?  My parents put me out in this God forsakeness to fend for myself at 14.  What do you expect?"  Or,
"The mental hospital closed down whole buildings to cut expenses throwing me onto the street.  Is that MY fault?"  
Kindness toward them just the same?  Minds eaten by Meth, heroin, crack, crank, alcohol... many drugs of choice -- victims or willing participants in their own demise?  Do the willing  participants deserve my kindness, my generosity, my sacrifice?  I would say yes.

The passage is about kindness and generosity.  Generosity toward those also made in the Divine image.  How much generosity is enough?  Why do I feel compelled by this passage toward being sacrificial - I mean cutting into my finances so deeply that it actually creates problems for me to pay bills?  What is wrong with the hundreds of others I see driving big cars, wearing expensive clothes or jewelry, paying for goods or services I could only dream of having in an afterlife?  Where is THEIR generosity, their sacrifice?  So often I have recognized that church budgets are financed on less than 3% of the median family income.  Where is their tithe of 10%?  What could be done with that much more to work with?  Then again, what of dependency - unhealthy dependency.  Why SHOULD more be provided to the needy when some won't lift a finger to help themselves and do little more than complain about how imperfect is their free load? "You give us cheap scrambled eggs, where is our banquet feast, our warm shelters, our safe houses, our lockers, our showers, our transportation, our entertainment"...our drugs, our predatory sex, our abusiveness toward another, our self-absorbed selfishness?  Really!  What all of it does the church (or anyone else) fund?  Where does generosity end and supplying gluttony or living stupidly begin?

The passage is about kindness and generosity, or is it?  What if it is about guilt?  As in putting a heavy load of guilt on the unrighteous?  Or, what if it is about pridefully beating oneself on the back for being good -- of being that Pharisee doing loud and opulent works to show the world their "goodness" (while hiding the uglier, selfish, not-so-pretty sides of themselves in closets at home?)  The unrighteous are going to burn in eternal damnation for not recognizing the Christ in the faces of the needy.  However, wait a minute.  Just who is needy?  Are we not all needy?  Are not the unrighteous even more needy of Christ than the goody two-shoes who do everything right?  This is a miserable passage propping up a Works Righteousness that is typical of Matthew.  I thank John L. for being so obnoxiously out there with his exegesis that it caused me to stop looking at it through rosy liberal eyes.  I'm not sure how to X it out of the canon, but it does need something seriously weighty to counterbalance the hurt in it.  The hurting of the truly needy, the hurting of those who sacrifice to help and sacrifice again only to be taken for granted or advantage of, or the unrealized hurting of the spirits of those rolling in wealth and materialism to the point the rest of humanity is cheated by their lack of social conscience.

This passage is about kindness and generosity, or is it about all that is wrong with the world?  Is it about shame?  Shame on you for using well-meaning Christians.  Shame on you for not helping the poor and needy.  Shame on you for helping so much that independence is turned to sick dependency.  And, therein is shame enough, guilt enough for all that only a Savior, the likes of Christ, can redeem us all from our dysfunction and failings.  There is only one sheep in this story, Jesus Christ.  All the rest are just goats, and in Christ that is just all okay.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Thank you dear God for losing the one sheep and therein rescuing all us goats.  Make us more sensitive, more aware, more humble in our interactions with all who are needy, and yes, even me.  Through Christ we pray. Amen.

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