Yesterday was sheep and goat Sunday. The lectionary readings both spoke about righteousness in terms of the goats and the sheep (Ezekiel 34 11-24 and Matt 25 31- 46). The specific focus for us was around the popular conversation piece that starts something like ‘I am spiritual, I am just not religious’. Taking that conversation and using the lens of scripture to shed some light on the debate, the interpretation was simple; God reserves the right to separate us and to ask us the ultimate life giving question: ‘Did you assist my people with life? Did you feed them? Did you clothe them? Did you give them water? Did you visit them? Did you show love? (Matt 25:37) Religious people be warned, spiritual people be warned – I don’t care which side of the fence you fall if you don’t look after my people, if you dismiss those in need then you are dismissing me, says Jesus.’ Gulp.
For those of us living in Africa, with poverty right up against our noses, this is a damming parable – depending on your car time – from morning to evening you may have said, ‘no Jesus I have nothing for you’, approximately 10 times a day… Each traffic light, each stop you make – a Jesus person comes up to you and says, please can you help me – and with the exception of a few chancers, most of those people are in serious need. We can try and desensitize ourselves by saying that they con and they should get jobs etc, but let’s be honest, they are standing on street corners because of poverty and because there are no jobs, we must not pretend it’s something else …
By that reckoning, righteousness is hard to attain – we are failing miserably at being who we are called to be, because it is physically impossible to feed everyone … then comes the good news – singing its way out of the Old Testament ….
In Ezekiel God says: “as for you my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? (Ezekiel 34 17-19)
We who have much will be judged on what we do with our much. The good news then is that the call to help the poor is bigger than the feeding of every starving person who comes up to you on a daily basis – the call is to work with eradicating poverty at its source. And we can all play a part – even if it’s a small part. It’s about being mindful of where our food comes from, who got trampled in the making of my food, in the transportation of this item of clothing? Am I supporting exploitation with any of my purchases? Am I supporting local farmers to make a living with what I buy or do I give my money to the multi-corporates who trample and muddy and shove and butt the poor struggling human being trying to make a living?
This scripture pairing is a powerful one because it forced me to ask myself, are people going hungry because of my greed and then being ignored by me because of my guilt?
If scripture is to transform us and give us life, then the question we can ask ourselves today is this one … Am I righteous in Gods eyes? Am I doing all that I am called to in supporting life? When I meet Jesus will he say to me, ‘thank you for being mindful of life, of all that was entrusted to you, your love helped transform the Kingdom’.
When we become conscious and aware of what is going on around us and the ripple effect our lives have on the world at large, then we can make positive, life affirming changes, if I am aware of the unloving way in which I shop or feed my family then I can work to turn that around…
The challenge is, as always when it comes to the radical Jesus, a huge and scary one – especially if we take our calling from God seriously, but it is doable, righteousness is attained when we take seriously the privilege and sacredness of all life and move to do what we can to support it, both on our doorsteps and in the world at large.
‘Whatever you did for the least of these – you did for me’ (Matt 25:40)