Fall is here (well only by namesake here in Tennessee). But the season has arrived and with it some of my other favorite things. No, the pumpkin spice takeover is not one of them; but baseball playoffs are. And this year my beloved Boston Red Sox are in the ALDS against the dastardly, villainous, maligned, evil empire known as the New York Yankees (Even as I type that name I have a sneer on my face). And last night was beautiful! The Red Sox handed the Yankees their worst ever loss in the postseason in fifty-four playoff appearances. It’s so good when we get to see the bad guys lose, and lose bad. And my favorite thing about all of this…? It’s just a game. At the end of the day I don’t hate (actually hate) the Yankees or the Georgia Bulldogs or the Jacksonville Jaguars or any of the rivals to the sports team I claim fandom to. In fact, if I set down to a meal with C.C. Sabathia or Aaron Judge we would probably get along just fine and find more things that we have in common versus things that divide us…even if they do wear the cursed pin-stripes. All I know is it’s a good thing that this narrative of good guys vs. bad guys is only played out in sports and sports rivalries.
Okay, so I used hyperbole to prove a point. It’s amazing how our cultural and even global narrative has become accustomed to an us versus them paradigm. It’s so much easier to understand who we are as long as we know who we are not. And the conversations and divides have become so sharp that we fail to see that we are all in this together. This thing we call life, this existence that happens on our planet is a shared experience and regardless of how we want to think about the other person and their experience, we all breathe the same air. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has this to say about our shared humanity, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” – II Corinthians 5:15-16 We can’t regard each other from worldly points of view because Christ died for all. The great Catholic social activist and theologian Dorothy Day put it this way, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Our narrative of villains and otherness and separation and divide really has no place when we know Christ and His Kingdom.
In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis had this to say about our encounters with our fellow humans, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…our charity must be a real and costly love …next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” In short, everyone we encounter is God’s image in flesh destined for eternal glory or eternal separation and this is who we interact with on a daily basis. There truly can be no villains or otherwise, but forgiveness and grace and mercy must reign over us and through us as we seek to be Christ’ ambassadors in this world. Is this easy? No. It’s much easier to write people off as Democrats or Republicans or Liberals or Fundamentalists or Progressives or Conservatives, etc. But as Christians, we don’t get to do this [full stop]. I must always strive to see every person as Christ would see them…even if they are wearing a New York Yankee’s hat. So may you and I treasure each other today. Because how we treat the creation says an awful lot about what we think of the Creator.
I was very hesitant to write today. Not that there aren’t a lot of thoughts running through my head. Honestly if people heard my inner monologue I think they would think I was even more strange than I appear to be. No, I think my hesitancy to write today’s blog post stems from the type of dialogue that I see going on in our world…particularly from those of us who claim the name of Christ. You see, for a couple of weeks now I’ve been listening to and watching the rhetoric going on between my friends about issues surrounding things like guns and rights and everything in between. And I honestly think as Christians we’ve evidently been operating under a very false pretense that has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel of Christ. I hear people say things like, “It’s obvious it’s a gun problem.” Or, “It’s obvious it’s not a gun problem, but a people problem.” Or even, “If they take away one right, what’s to stop them from coming for all my rights.” And I don’t want to invalidate any of your arguments or stances. Hear me again, I don’t want to invalidate any of your arguments or stances…but…
I think as Christians we need to have the veil pulled back from our eyes. I think we find ourselves in this world operating with an illusion created by sin and it mask itself in the most clever of ways. It looks like rights, defense, independence and even love…and yet, it’s an illusion. The illusion is the belief that my life, or the life of any one I love matters more than the life of anyone else on earth (I know I just lost some friends with that one). But honestly, if the gospel doesn’t teach us that we all come to the foot of the cross as equals, then we have misread the gospel. The writer of Matthew puts it this way in the words of Christ, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them’.” – Matthew 16:24-25 If you wish to follow Christ, then you must realize your life is forfeit. If you choose to follow the crucified Messiah, then you must realize your life is worth no more than the person you despise the most.
Now you may say to me, what in the world does this have to do with all the debate about guns and rights and sin…honestly, everything. Until I can come to the table with any one of the human race realizing that Christ gave his life for them as much as for me, then I might as well not enter into the fray. So by all means, continue to have your debates and discussions and solutions ad nausea, but if you don’t pull back the illusion and think of each and every life as just as valuable as your own and those you love, then you need to reevaluate the Christ you have chosen to follow. Because he may have ended up looking more like you than you think. I’ll leave you with one more thought that I think continues to pull back the illusion for us all and it comes from Dorothy Day. “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” You are loved, Grace and Peace.
This last Wednesday the teens of Central and I visited a familiar passage to many of us. The passage speaks of a parable when the Son of Man returns in His Glory and separates all of the nations into segments, much like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats of a herd. To the “sheep” on the right He extends an invitation into eternal reward based upon their seemingly unconscious service to the least of these. To the “goats” on his left he denies this same invitation due to their seemingly unknowing ignorance of the least of these. (Matthew 25:31-46). The trouble with this parable is that I always had trouble differentiating why the goats were bad and the sheep were good. I mean, aside from their sometimes general ornery nature I always felt that goats were pretty okay. And sheep could be pretty ornery as well to be honest. But then I began to think about their eating natures. Goats are notorious for consuming. Not only do they eat everything*, but they consume at massive rates without regard for each other or whoever else might be around. On the other hand, sheep eat grass. That’s it. They only consume what they need in order to provide for those around them, albeit unknowingly (wool and sometimes mutton).
Now let’s take it back to the parable. The goats are those who consume resources at an astonishing rate without giving thought to those around them. All of a sudden the parable begins to make a bit more sense. ‘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?’ – Matthew 25:44 When you were consuming resources and looking out for number one you completely missed the least of these. I imagine this would be a more appropriate modern vernacular response. And on the flip side the sheep weren’t even aware of the fact that they were caring for the least of these. “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?’” – Matthew 25:37-39. They were so used to giving of what they had and sharing their resources that it was a surprise that this was a service to God.
But that’s the thing. God has a huge place in his heart for the least, the last place, the outcast, the oppressed. And He expects us to have the same heart. I came across a quote from Dorothy Day this week that kicked me right in the teeth regarding this. “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Go ahead and read it again. Let it sink in. Maybe we need to realize that our love for God is ultimately reflected in our love for the least. And that we are called to be sheep seeking for a way to provide instead of to consume.
* I was recently told by a friend who owns some goats that this may not be true…although they do eat a lot.