These days it feels as if the only 2 things I’m seemingly very good at are: watching + evaluating.
I watch TV, the rattling, odorous recycling truck every other Wednesday (YOU DIDN’T EMPTY THE CAN!), and my neighbors, through an inconspicuous hole in their privacy fence…
(Although, is there an incredibly great difference between, say, a trench-coated peeping tom fumbling through the overgrown rose-bushes, and the hour you spent late last night shame-scrolling through the photographic evidence of your ex’s most recent trip to Cozumel?)
“Really? What 33 year old gets a hair wrap? And, I mean seriously, is that Hawaiian shirt ironic or were you intentionally going full-on early-2000s-Rick-Warren-Purpose-Driven-casual?”
As Sarte once said: “Hell is other people, on Facebook, at 2:30am”
So when I came across a familiar story last week, I was quite surprised at what I had failed to notice, despite my great successes in the art of observation.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of this story, or if you haven’t, I’m almost positive you’ve, at some point or another, visited the Southeastern United States where we just pump this stuff into the atmosphere of college quads, concert parking lots, and nursing home televisions inaudibly airing re-runs of Neil Cavuto. That’s right, I’m talkin’ bout GEEZUS, and the one time he bothered to mention the favorite question of campus ministers drawing “2 parallel lines that will never cross” on drink napkins to confused college sophomores late for Sociology.
Rarely, with the exception of this particular story involving a few sheep and goats, did Jesus mention the “great beyond” for which we’re taught almost from inception to jones. And, despite a great deal of verbiage to the contrary, the Jesus of Nazareth we encounter in the actual Scriptures did not travel from one teary-eyed summer camp auditorium to another (unbearable “merch” table in tow), inviting his listeners to reflect upon the specificity of their post-mortem destination were they to endure a particularly heinous ending to the drive home.
Nah, mostly he just talked about something called the “Kingdom of God” and also a bunch of other stuff we find superfluous-like loving our enemies rather than killing them, sharing our resources rather than hoarding them, and living in solidarity with the oppressed rather than ignoring them.
But where was I again?
Oh yeah, it was Hell.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory…all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”
“OOOOH! That’s the sermon I remember! But, if you would, go ahead and get to the grizzly stuff because THAT’S WHY WE’RE ALL HERE ON A WEEKEND MORNING BEFORE NOON WHEN WE COULD BE EATING BRUNCH INSTEAD.”
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ They will also answer, ‘Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
But aren’t we just rehashing that same threadbare conversation about how we’re not only expected to believe that God killed Jesus instead of killing us (a conversation for another day), but also help, like poor people and stuff, in order to enjoy the togas and chocolate milk fountains awaiting the “sheep” in post-mortem bliss?
Well, yes, and also, no.
Actually, mostly no.
“If the only thing keepin’ a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother, that person is a piece of _____.”
-Strong-Jawed-Philosopher-Detective Rustin Cohle
Now typically, the word employed by people to categorically refer to a genre of conversation concerning itself with the systemic destruction of everything and everyone by a divine force at the end of things, is the word:
As in: “Good grief, that burrito I ate 2 days ago is APOCALYPTICALLY destroying my morning.”
Or, perhaps more tastefully:
and, I do mean “tasteful” in the most liberal sense of the word.
However, in the original Greek (I WENT TO GRAD SCHOOL PLEASE RESPECT ME) “apocalyptic” is the word apocalypsis, meaning:
“a multi-billion dollar publishing-film-political-industrial complex hell-bent on frightening young children, alienating outsiders, and destroying polite dinner conversation.”
It means: “to reveal or uncover”
but try getting a project in Hollywood off the ground with that tagline.
“Jerry’s not coming down off the boat for that one.”
-Television’s John Krasinski
Which brings us back to the original story and the subtle use of the word “when” by both the sheep as well as the goats.
As in: “when did we see you, Jesus?”
Or, put another way:
“C’mon man! If we had known that the Son o’ Gawd was here, starving with all these naked convicts then OBVIOUSLY we would have been a bit more helpful. Because, apocalyptically speaking, you’re kind of the main dude when it comes to making the guest list for those aforementioned togas and chocolate-milk-fountains. So it’d be kinda stupid not to lend a hand to, what did you call them? “the least of these” or something like that? Yeah, I’m in, let’s feed ’em expired creamed corn and give them ill-fitting tennis shoes in the winter time, cause HEAVEN SOUNDS AWESOME AND I’M A REALLY SELFLESS PERSON JESUS.”
When we serve the poor, the immigrant, and the orphan “in the name of Jesus” you can usually interpret this as code for serving in the name of (please enter your name here). Primarily because we view the definition of life, faith, and apocalypticism through the lens of Michael Bay rather than the actual language and context from which they emerged.
In the ancient world, Apocalypticism was a poetic from of storytelling that used a popular conversation about the future as a prop in order to alter the concrete reality of the present. It lays waste-in sometimes quite brutal ways-to our ideas about how the world should work, who’s in charge, and what really matters.
Notice the difference between the sheep and the goats, it isn’t that one group does what Jesus asks and thus, gets rewarded, while the others don’t and as a result, receive punishment forever. It’s that the sheep love, give, serve, and stand in solidarity with the oppressed all in the absence of god and divine reward.
There is no expectation of heavenly gain.
There are no attempts at controlling the outcomes, alleviating middle class guilt, or managing the perceptions of others.
There is no humiliating and dehumanizing “aid-distribution” where people are continually reminded that the services they’re receiving are not, in fact, a result of their inherent worth, but rather: “cause Jesus said to serve the least of these and you smell like cigarettes and sweat so that probably qualifies.”
There is only open-handed, buoyant, limitlessly hopeful generosity.
Because the sheep are those who’ve managed to discover that the salvation of folks at the bottom of our religious-political-economic systems ends up, however counterintuitively, healing all of us endlessly sweating out the performance of our IRAs, children’s ACT scores, and vacation plans.
Not to mention, when we manage to open ourselves up to the possibility of resurrection and life-reconstruction in another, we end up embracing the possibility that perhaps there might just be enough love, grace, and peace in this word rather than just the one after it, to make room for us as well.
So let’s get apocalyptic, baby.