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Sheep, and Goats, and Wolves, and the Least of These Michael Jensen
There are profound truths in the Bible, as any religious scholar--from the Unitarian to the Muslim to the Jew to the Buddhist--will tell you.
I am not a believer in the absolute literality of the Bible -- bluntly, anything that's been translated four times (Hebrew to Latin to German to English) minimum can't be taken literally. But those profound truths (in the tales, in the lessons, in the teachings) are worth exploring, especially when it pertains to a fundamental paradox in the Conservative orthodoxy.
If we are to truly be a Christian -- that is, Christ-ian, Christ-like -- nation, then must study the prince of peace's teachings. And in so doing, many of the recent actions of our nation are, to our shame, called into question.
It is not enough to ask "what would Jesus do" only when meeting a homeless person.
"What would Jesus do" if he were the head of Health and Human Services? In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus' famous "least of these" passage is put in terms even four translations couldn't blunt.
[Jesus] ... will say to [the sheep] at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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."
Um... how much clearer do you need to be? Well, maybe a little clearer . Jesus goes on to say to the goats on his left hand:
"You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 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..."
Ok, so if Jesus was head of Health and Human Services, he'd be pressuring the President a bit more, I'd say, to
Now, I tend to simplify this list, by saying "help the helpless" or even just "help those in need."
Currently, the Conservatives believe that everyone should be free to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. Everyone should be free to be an entrepreur, and make the most of the free market.
That works ok, if you're an entrepreur, or one of the elite, or have tremendous get-up-and-go, talent, and smarts.
But "the least of these" are not those people. "The least" are, by definition, the ones who are preyed upon by the wolves described above. They are the ones who will never quite be able to get a good "new economy" job, with health insurance and a 401(k). Instead he will be stuck working for Mr. Man, getting a paycheck every two weeks that is mostly taken up by rent and groceries and childcare.
"The least of these" are those who have been forgotten, or ignored, or hidden away -- the retarded, the malformed, the psychotic, the ugly -- who are routinely shunned by the Conservatives.
"Pull your own weight" and "Free to succeed" might work for the healthy, but the sick may simply be unable to do so. How does the "Conservative orthodoxy" deal with this paradox? How do we create a compassionate America, that takes pride in its help for its poor, its treatment of its bad elements, and the quality of its welcome to strangers?
As a lifelong Unitarian (though my mother once instructed my small self to, if someone asked, say "Methodist" because it would take less explaining), I've learned about a multitude of beliefs, but learned in depth only those which I cared to explore. I find Starhawk's heartfelt plea for compassion and honesty tremendously compelling. I also find Jesus's teachings deeply wise.
Matthew 25's "least of these" teachings was always one of my favorites. I remembered it, held it to my heart, and thought of it often.
Now, in this context, I went out hunting for background on Matthew 25. In the process, I ran across: