Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment … Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you can’t find words to capture your complex emotions. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude
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.’ Matthew 25:40
The verse above comes from Jesus’s final discourse in the book of Matthew seemingly about end times. The Son of Man, Jesus’s preferred reference to himself, has come in his glory to separate the sheep from the goats among all the nations. The qualifying factors for sheep appear to be:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36
To which the sheep respond, when did we do this? And Jesus answers when you did it to the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me. Apparently, the goats did not do these things and are separated to go away to eternal punishment.
This parable or metaphor raises several questions for me and an observation.
Who are the members of his family? Aren’t we, as the human race, all members of his family? Am I even qualified to determine who is a member of his family? Are only the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and imprisoned members of his family? I am none of those things, wouldn’t that disqualify me? How can I possibly have faith in a god that claims to be Love yet would damn beloveds to eternal punishment?
And the observation? In the end, it is the King who does the judging; not me and not you.
As a youngster when I would go downstairs for breakfast in the mornings, my mother always had the radio on in the kitchen tuned to a local AM news station. One of the broadcasts we listened to was Paul Harvey and his ‘The Rest of the Story’ segment. Thirteen years have passed since he was last on the air—he died in 2009—but I can still hear his distinct voice and cadence.
In this writing of Henri J.M. Nouwen I hear the voice of Paul Harvey say:
“If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, ‘Because it makes us die to our neighbor.’ At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look, we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, that prevents us from really being with the other.” The Way of the Heart
Doesn’t this seem like a more reasonable conclusion to the meaning of the parable in question, especially considering Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself?
Therein lies the problem. We are unwilling to die to our neighbor. Thus, we become unwilling to bake a birthday cake for a transgendered person. We refuse voting rights to people of color; we mock and terrorize LGBTQIA+ beloveds. We judge people based on a label rather than connecting to their hearts.
I can’t think of any eternal punishment worse than the delusional belief that I could be separate from Eternal Love.
According to treehugger.com the main difference between sheep and goats “is how they forage. Sheep are grazers; they ramble slowly eating short plants close to the ground. Goats are browsers; they look for leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs.”
… close to the ground …
The parable of the sheep and goats is a call to humility.
At the last supper with his twelve apostles, Jesus took off his robe, tied a towel around his waist and washed the feet of his friends.
Humility keeps us close to the ground where we can wash the feet of our neighbors.
May we follow his example.
“Hello, ma’am.” He smiled broadly and waved.
I was walking Polly. I smiled back, though not quite as widely. “Hi, how are you?”
“I’m super fantastic. How are you?”
When the pandemic began, I reluctantly quit volunteering at the JCCM food pantry. One of the regular clients was Jeffrey. I have written about him in this space before. Homeless, few possessions—what he can carry in a backpack—always smiling, yes, always, and with a pep in his step.
“I’m super fantastic too, thank you.”
“You have a great day, ma’am.”
How could I not respond that I am super fantastic?
I have a roof over my head. I live in comfortable surroundings. I have a closet and dresser full of clothes, shoes, hats, and coats. My refrigerator and kitchen cupboards are full as is my stomach. I have a book shelf full of books to read and electronics to utilize. I drive a bad-ass truck with a tank full of gas that takes me wherever I want and need to go. I have friends and family who ‘get me’ and love me. I have a loving, sweet, gentle dog. I am retired and I have my health.
How could I not be super fantastic? I have so much more than Jeffrey.
Or do I?
If I didn’t have all of the above, would I genuinely and sincerely be able to say I’m super fantastic?
I don’t think it’s about comparing how much stuff either of us have anyway. It’s about knowing Who you are and to Whom you belong and Jeffrey is all in, 100% positive, without any doubt whatsoever sure of Who he is and to Whom he belongs.
My oldest son sent me a birthday card in which he wrote:
Has your latest year of birth been mostly happy? Well, whether or not, I hope you are well. Love, C.
Between isolating (due to the pandemic); enduring the insufferable Mr. Trump; mourning COVID deaths, gun violence, and civil rights injustices; and divorcing, year 62 was challenging. But what year of life for anyone isn’t challenging?
I answered my son, that yes, I am happy. Upon further reflection of my son’s use of the word ‘well,’ I’d say I am well–it is well with my soul. (Horatio Spafford)
Like Paul, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11). Of all people, Paul knew what it was to suffer—wrongfully imprisoned multiple times, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, abandoned, whipped—still he did not lose heart.
Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18
In other words:
All this love we are reaching to be one with begins with seeing the beauty of our own selves… Without any need to be perfect… The way God loves us… In each rising discovery that we are beautiful in the way God knows beauty the world we have all made up together becomes more beautiful… And so Creation extends, through consciousness, by transforming all that we made up, into Light… J.F.
I’m super fantastic!
And so are you!
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
English/Language Arts was always my least favorite subject in school. When I was given the choice to teach it or Science as a new sixth-grade middle school teacher, I chose Science—which I loved. Towards the end of my career, feeling like I needed a change, I jumped on the opportunity to teach sixth-grade Social Studies and English/Language Arts.
I eagerly integrated the two subjects with high student satisfaction and enthusiasm.
One of the more mundane aspects of English/Language Arts is punctuation. In hindsight, I think I would have creatively used Music and/or singing to teach punctuation–at least for comma usage, anyway. Like reading aloud, when you are singing, the comma is where you take a breath between phrases creating a sound of unison between the choral members.
I have recited, prayed and meditated on the above creed many times during my life. Still, it was only several months ago that a particular comma caught my attention. Different variations of the creed sometimes have a period or a semi-colon in the one spot that has sparked my curiosity.
The unique interval, to which I am referring, lies between ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ and ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate.’
Within that short breathing space, Jesus lived his life!
Feeding the poor, healing the sick, ministering to the disenfranchised, befriending disciples, training apostles, teaching–and that’s just what’s recorded in the Gospels, much of which focuses on the last three years of his life!
John 21:25 says:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
The Creed in and of itself is a monumental undertaking to summarize one’s faith; it hardly seems fair to honor all that Jesus did with just a comma.
But maybe that’s the point.
It’s not so much about what we believe to be true, but how we Live. James 2:19 says: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
The Greek word for shudder means to “tremble convulsively, as from fear or excitement; an almost pleasurable sensation of fright.” A ‘pleasurable sensation of fright’ seems to point to perverted believing. The most perverted belief I can ever imagine is believing that I am or could ever be somehow separate from God. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s just not true!
I have lived nearly twice as long as Jesus lived and yet I hardly doubt that the deeds of my life would fill one book much less enough books to fill “the whole world.” However, giving attention to that grace space when I recite the Apostles Creed helps me see and live differently.
I have come to love that comma.
That comma is where I can have my doubts which are “the essential ingredient in the evolution of (my) faith from “orthodoxy” or right belief to “orthopraxy” or right way of life.” (Brian McLaren/Richard Rohr)
That comma, that pause, that space reminds me that “I am precious in God’s sight and that He loves me” (Isaiah 43:4); that “THIS is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24); that I can’t change other people, but I can change how I respond to them because “I love my neighbor as myself” (Matthew 22:36-40); that “nothing can separate me from the love of God” (Romans 8:28); that God “so loved the world” (John 3:16).
That comma is where we are to “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). That comma is the Christ—all Truth, Beauty, and Love–For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! (Zechariah 9:17)
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
Could the kingdom of heaven be like a comma?
I think so.
I find myself feeling out of step with the world these days.
Between the pandemic and a recent painful personal experience, I feel like any blinders I may have been wearing have been ripped off. The only place I don’t seem to feel at loggerheads is in experiencing nature.
I use to be a night owl, but since adopting my dog, Polly, I am rousted out of bed between six and six thirty every morning; and I couldn’t be happier! Our early morning walks set the tone for the rest of the day.
Have you ever listened to a foggy dawn? When the fog lays on the earth like blanket on a cozy bed, it dampens any sound perpetuating calm stillness and unfathomable peace. Have you ever looked at a field of unmown grass swaying in the breezy sunshine and seen a kaleidoscope of greens? Absolutely mesmerizing! What about walking through dewy covered grass? One morning I looked down at the beads of perspiration and noticed what I thought was a five-leafed flower. Turns out it was the remains of a dandelion completely seed-barren looking like a misty star. My path was littered with these shining gems.
Birds singing, rooted trees lifting their dancing limbs towards the lemon sun, snow-white puffy clouds moseying across an azure atmospheric dome, amber sunrises, magenta Peonies, deep violet Irises, golden Sunflowers, the mysterious delights of each season …
… this is where I feel most at home. This moment. This now. This awareness.
This is where I go in my heart when …
… I see the human rights abuses of the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu, what is your objective? You have taken a page out of Hitler’s holocaust of the Jews.
Or I hear Senate Republican lawmakers speak with forked tongues.
Mitch McConnel, aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of all your and your party’s lies? Only an artless hasty-witted miscreant such as yourself and your party legislators would be committed to being “100 percent focused on stopping Biden’s administration.” That’s not much of a party platform; certainly not one worthy of re-electing spineless mealy-mouth blaggards to office.
Andrew Clyde, do you seriously believe that January sixth was “a normal tourist visit?” If so, why did you block the Senate chamber doors? Why not welcome them in? Greg Abbot, do you really think that an “extreme six-week abortion ban” is admirable and praiseworthy? You have just set women’s rights back 150 years at least. Brian Kemp, how can you sign such loathsome, oppressive and despicable voting laws? Face it, you are out of touch with the reality of the 21st century as are most of the elected officials in your party.
Wait a minute, I thought I was out of step?
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
That’s where and who I am.
That grace-filled space of Truth, Beauty, Equality, Diversity, Peace, Love and Light.
If only we all realized that is who and what we are; what a lovely place this would be.