Say Cheese

Matthew 25:31-46 – Last Sunday of Ordinary Time/Reign of Christ – for November 20, 2011

“…just as you did it to one of the least who are members of my family, you did it to me…” (Matthew 25:40)

Aren’t some people as gutless as a mid-1980s Yugo automobile and others as powerful as the newest Dodge Ram 2500 pickup? Some folks are blander than pre-sliced, processed American cheese compared to ones possessing the elegance and complexity of Humboldt fog.

Ah, a slice of Humboldt Fog (pic borrowed from reluctantgourmet.com)

I cringe at Biblical passages identifying certain people as righteous and all the rest as . . . unrighteous. Such as: there are those who’ll sit at God’s benevolent right hand and those soon to cower from the threat of the Holy’s vengeful left hand. More: in the agrarian world of the Old and New Testaments, there are sheep to be revered and goats to be rejected. I usually cringe because I probably could identify which cloven-footed, ruminant creatures should be kept in the sheep’s pen versus ornery, unwanted goats . . . but I’m lousy at discerning good versus bad in my fellow homo sapiens.

Of course, why should I worry about judging my sheepish or goatly neighbor? That’s way above my pay grade. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,” near the end-of-time, he will be the one who determines who goes where. So says Matthew 25. So says, in one form or another, a variety of passages in the Bible.

Followers of Jesus claimed him the Good Shepherd, not the Swell Goatherder; the Lamb of God, not the Kid of Yahweh.

Distinctions. Differences. You, me. Those, them.

Still, if I had to choose between the Yugo and the Dodge Ram, I’d always ask for the key to the goat-named pickup. How about you?

Don't you want to go out and buy a "classic" Yugo? (pic from http://freeweb.deltha.hu/zastava.in.hu/)

A few years ago I visited buddy Duane and spent a long day hiking trails near his Washington state home. That evening, he and his wife served hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Tired and sore, sharing the company of friends, I tasted my first morsel of Humboldt fog. Melt in your mouth cheese. Cheese with a smooth, creamy texture. As a child I hated cheese. Didn’t even like the commercial crap known as American cheese. As an adult, oh how I love Humboldt fog, an exquisite cheese made from . . . goat’s milk.

Since Duane’s appetizer, I can’t read any Biblical passage about “baaaad” goats and not think about Humboldt fog. Save the goats! Blessed are the cheesemakers!*

John Kennedy campaigned for the presidency when I was in elementary school. Until then, I didn’t know red-haired Mike, one of my bestest friends, was Roman Catholic. But other classmates knew he attended “mass” while they went to church. He had a priest (who wore a funny collar) and they had a pastor. Mike and his family thought God preferred Latin while everyone knew God only spoke good old English. Mike was harassed and taunted on the playground. He was a Pope lover and Kennedy follower.

Classmates picked fights with him. He struck back. Why is that?

In my baby boomer lifetime I have had the opportunity to hate Jews, Muslims, blacks, communists, homosexuals, Mormons, Catholics, atheists, feminists and _______________. What group am I missing? Who else is among the goats? I’m not talking about the sheep and the goats during the Spanish Inquisition or Crusades. I don’t want a history lesson. I don’t want to only politely and easily read Matthew 25 about those ruminants from long ago and far away. Who else, in your/my lifetime, in your neighborhood, playing in a playground close to where you live and work, has been viewed as a Biblical goat?

Judged.

The other.

Condemned.

Yes, I cringe when I read these passages. History’s lessons, and today’s attitudes, always remind me that few of us have the patience to wait for God to do any judging at the end-of-time. We judge now. We judge early. We judge often.

Sadly, I do. I play God. Or, if not a narrow-minded God in the ways I treat others, I at least ruminate on believing I’m the right kind of ruminant. Am I not more good sheep than bad goat?

An impending apocalypse? I don’t worry about it.

God as Almighty Inquisitor? Not when Jesus calls him abba, or daddy.

And yet I do know how easily, in the blessed and brutal words of Matthew, I withhold drink from the “thirsty,” I keep more jackets in my closet while others need “clothing,” a thousand and more strangers have encountered me and never felt “welcomed.”

Am I sheep or goat? Both and neither?

The Bible warns of end times.

It is a warning I pray to heed. Not because of what may happen “soon,” but because—before this day ends—I will encounter someone who is thirsty, hungry, in need of clothing, and who desires—as if their life depended on it—for me to be welcoming. My first reaction might be to value them as no better than cheap cheese, but I hope my faithful response will be to view them as the finest Humboldt fog.

*Blessed are the cheesemakers…thanks Monty Python!

 

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4 Comments

  1. There are times, rare, I’m sure, that I loose patience with someone who asks about a particularly difficult Biblical passage such as your NT sheep and goats story or OT tales of battles and punishments and dirty tricks (Job) and fire and brimstone. In those moments, I am inclined to say “Oh, Grow up.” The Bible was not inspired for 12 year old sensibilities and knowledge. These passages were left in the canon for their old tradition, so God expects you to be able to figure it out, and that may take some work.

    Actually, I’ve neer said that, but I want to. That’s why I don’t teach kids. Especially since the things Larry cited are not the worst things Jesus said, with high historical probability, about the rejection of his biological family.

    Oddly, I am now studying the Qur’an, and I find that Allah very rarely says things like that, and does not recommend what has been called the ascetic ideal of renouncing worldly goods, thereby creating a two-tiered piety, since someone has to till the fields and mill the grain and bake the bread so the pious ascetic can beg you for food.

    1. Neil…I don’t know how easily Humboldt fog ships…and it may now be made “across the pond.” Everything is subjective (so maybe you’ll find it deplorable?!), but if you find it, I hope you enjoy!

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