Sheep and Goats

Our series on the Rapture culminates this Sunday in what is traditionally known as “Christ the King” Sunday.  This is not language we typically use at Church in the Cliff.  It is hierarchical and patriarchal and we prefer more expansive and inclusive images of God.  However, this highlights some of the things we’ve been talking about with Rapture theology.

As it is commonly understood today, due to the influence of writers like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, Christ’s return will be marked with violence and division.  God will judge everyone, separating the believers from the non-believers.  Believers will be vindicated and rewarded for their faith and non-believers will be punished.  Those who have suffered so long for the glory of Christ will finally be spared the indignity of hearing “Happy Holidays!”

Most Rapture enthusiasts I encounter today are privileged in a number of ways: straight, white, Christian, and relatively prosperous.  In fact, there is a curious intersection of prosperity gospel and self-help gospel that tell people that good Christians have good lives, and a Rapture theology that tells Christians that they are always under threat, that their way – God’s way – is in decline.  The result is that God’s judgment is rendered to protect the privileged – from the gays, from the Muslims, from the immigrants, from the lazy poor.  Some folks are anxious for the division of the sheep and the goats, but maybe they shouldn’t be.

Maybe they should read the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25.31-46, which is one of our lectionary passages this week.  Yes, God comes as a king and sits in judgment.  He separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep go to mansions in the sky and the goats get the coal chute.  But look at the criteria for judgment.  How did you treat the poor?  How did you treat the hungry?  How did you treat the homeless?  How did you care for the least among us?  Then he says something remarkable that, in a very Jesus-y way, undoes all the hierarchical, patriarchal stuff in which the story is framed.  Jesus says that the way that we treat the least among is the way that we treat Jesus, that Jesus is, in fact, those very people.

To backtrack a little bit, the reason that we so often see images of kingship in ancient writings is that the king was understood to be subordinate only to God.  Many times, the king was seen as the Son of God, carrying God’s full authority.  Philosophically, this defines a great hierarchy of being that carries God’s nature into the world.  If you want to know who God is, look at the king.  If you want to please God, behave like the king, support the king.  That is not only the ordering principle of society, but the very nature of reality itself.  When the early Christian writers speak of Jesus as king, they are saying he is the image of who God is, the definitive vision of the nature of reality itself.

Yet, here Jesus identifies himself with the least among us.  God’s vision of kingship is a complete reversal of everything it means to be a king.  The definitive vision of the nature of reality itself is, in fact, those who are impoverished, those who wander or have no home, those who are hungry and naked.  If we want to know who God is, look at them.  If we want to please God, we should live our lives in solidarity with them.  If we want to avoid the coal chute, we should not see God as the protector of our privilege over against those who suffer, those who ask for food to eat and a roof over their heads.  Jesus is not the king, but is instead the presence of God in the world seen most of all in those who suffer.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss sheep and goats and which one we might become as we construct our vision of hope.

Grace & Peace,

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