Thursday, February 07, 2008

The least of these

My friend Mike recently did an interview for a conservative Christian magazine that turned out really well about formerly conservative evangelical Christians who have left the Republican party . I was reading it this morning and got sucked into the online comments. Luckily, I pulled myself free without losing too much of my morning.

I was really struck and disheartened by one exchange, though, that is worth mentioning.

This is a paragraph from the article:
“I couldn’t square the ‘pull-yourself-by-your-own-bootstraps’ ideology of the [Religious] Right with Jesus’s words that whatever we did for the least of these we did for him,” Clawson told WoW.
In the fourth comment, someone said:
Third, perhaps it should be explained to Mr. Clawson that the passage having to do with ‘the least of these’ belongs in the context of individual accountability on the Final Day of Judgment.


The comment ended with that sentence and I think it's pretty clear that the writer meant, "and therefore has nothing to do with how we live on this earth."

I spend my days interacting with Christians whose lives have been transformed by the found knowledge that since God loves them just the way they are, then they must be worth loving. For the most part, they want to help other people feel that same love.

Although most of them think issues of heaven and hell are important and lots of them work towards the conversion of the unchurched as one method of sharing God's love, more of them believe that we are human vectors for God's love and that the best way we can let it shine through us is to love our "neighbors," using the verse that Mike cited as one of the main ones that command this.
The Sheep and the Goats

31-33"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

37-40"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

41-43"Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

44"Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'

45"He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'

46"Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."
Matthew 25 (Thanks Biblegateway!)
I don't think that Mike or I or any other Christian would disagree that this passage is about individual accountability on the Final Day of Judgement, although we might quibble about what exactly the Final Day of Judgement may or may not entail. However, I also think it is very clear that this passage says that to be viewed favorably on that day, one must not have expected people to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" but to have given them a hand up as they tried to stand or even a hand out when they couldn't even begin contemplating yet rising from where they had fallen.

It seems like the commenter has segmented passages that have to do with the afterlife into a category of not-to-worry-about-since-I'm-saved and that makes me very sad because I believe that we are capable of living in the Kingdom of Heaven right now by doing the things that we're commanded to do (namely, love). We don't have to wait to receive it as a reward. He's missing out now and by choosing to submit himself to God's authority but misunderstanding the commandment, he might never experience the joy of knowing that he is worth loving, which is the ultimate reward.


Dave said...

awwwwwww... WHY... I was going to be productive today.

dang it.

PrincessMax said...

I'm always reminded of the scene from Blazing Saddles where they slowly realize what they've railroaded into.

Their double-toned cries of despair repeat in my head when I find comment threads like that.


Mike Clawson said...

Good post Rebecca. And yeah, I do sort of feel like I'm being slowly sucked under in that thread. :)

Christy said...

I feel ya on this one. I was reminded of this passage from A Man Without A Country (Vonnegut): "For some reason, the most vocal Christians around us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. 'Blessed are the merciful' in the courtroom? 'Blessed are the peacemakers' in the Pentagon?' Give me a break!"

PrincessMax said...

i haven't read much Vonnegut. I like that quote, Christy. How sadly true.