Matthew 25:31-46 â€“ Last Sunday of Ordinary Time/Reign of Christ â€“ for November 20, 2011
â€œâ€¦just as you did it to one of the least who are members of my family, you did it to meâ€¦â€ (Matthew 25:40)
Arenâ€™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.
I cringe at Biblical passages identifying certain people as righteous and all the rest as . . . unrighteous. Such as: there are those whoâ€™ll sit at Godâ€™s benevolent right hand and those soon to cower from the threat of the Holyâ€™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 sheepâ€™s pen versus ornery, unwanted goats . . . but Iâ€™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? Thatâ€™s way above my pay grade. â€œWhen the Son of Man comes in his glory,â€ 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, Iâ€™d always ask for the key to the goat-named pickup. How about you?
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. Didnâ€™t even like the commercial crap known as American cheese. As an adult, oh how I love Humboldt fog, an exquisite cheese made from . . . goatâ€™s milk.
Since Duaneâ€™s appetizer, I canâ€™t read any Biblical passage about â€œbaaaadâ€ 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 didnâ€™t know red-haired Mike, one of my bestest friends, was Roman Catholic. But other classmates knew he attended â€œmassâ€ 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? Iâ€™m not talking about the sheep and the goats during the Spanish Inquisition or Crusades. I donâ€™t want a history lesson. I donâ€™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?
Yes, I cringe when I read these passages. Historyâ€™s lessons, and todayâ€™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 Iâ€™m the right kind of ruminant. Am I not more good sheep than bad goat?
An impending apocalypse? I donâ€™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 â€œthirsty,â€ I keep more jackets in my closet while others need â€œclothing,â€ a thousand and more strangers have encountered me and never felt â€œwelcomed.â€
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 â€œsoon,â€ but becauseâ€”before this day endsâ€”I will encounter someone who is thirsty, hungry, in need of clothing, and who desiresâ€”as if their life depended on itâ€”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!