I once wrote a paper on the parable of the sheep and the goats arguing that it was both a parable AND apocalyptic literature.
I know, no one cares about things like apocalyptic literature versus parables. But this is the kind of question that keeps lit people like me up at night. I lose sleep over wondering if zombies (especially moral zombies) are real. I also lose sleep over questions like: is literary deconstruction justified if – and only if – we want to question unjust social norms?
The world of words is a scary place!
Apocalyptic literature works like this: life sucks right now but if you follow God, He (or She) will reward you.
Parables work like this: if you think you’re definitely on the right side, then chances are that you have no idea yet how far you still have to go.
They’re kind of two diametrically opposed literary forms.
But are they? Are they really?
Many people (not me of course!) have their “in” group and their “out” group, sheep and goats. We tend to be arrogant among our fellow goats and condescending to those sheep over there. Us goats might help out those lowly sheep, but we’re still goats. We are still rich or morally upright or … whatever. Right?
The parable inverts that notion by saying you want to be with the least of these – and here’s how – by BEING WITH the least of these.
I can always tell the really mature believers by the slowly dawning suspicion in their eyes that God might actually love everyone. Which is kinda scary. If you think about it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that what Jesus would really like us to do is to do our best. Pray for everyone. Stay humble. Correct evil as we see it – and then move on – starting with ourselves first.
We may think that because we have dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s that God OWES us eternal life. Yeah, God doesn’t really owe anyone anything.
God gives to us freely. We all have the chance to do likewise, to show kindness and compassion – even when that compassion may include pointing out red lights and stop signs.
None of us can control anyone else’s behavior. But jail sentences, fines, and other penalties? They can.
So can social context.
Nothing changes policy like living it out. And nothing guides law so resolutely as policy. We all know this.
Even just being that person who is willing to stand up for someone and AT LEAST let them know they are not alone. Can change the world.