It’s interesting that the Slovakians, like Trump and many in America, would invoke the nomenclature, “Christian Nation” and use it as an excuse not to help “outsiders.” Just as Donald could not come up with a favorite Bible verse, perhaps they also are unaware of or forgetting what their first leader, Jesus, had to say on the subject? I’m not trying to get all religious on you, but some historical context is in order if we want to examine how Trump and Jesus are not exactly running mates on this issue.
In the Bible in Matthew Chapter 25 Jesus sits down with his disciples and preaches what amounts to be his final sermon. He says, “When the son of man comes in his glory, he will sit on his glorious throne. He will gather the nations before him and he will separate the sheep and the goats.” For those not familiar with the story today, the short version is that Jesus is boiling down religious efforts to their most important and critical points. In essence he says to a bunch of uber-religious guys, “Here is what is going to be on the all important final exam!” Pretty handy stuff to know if you are overly concerned with things like judgement day.
The original followers got the picture he was painting for them: It’s the end of times, and the God they seek to serve will come back for “judgement” and will be seeing who passed and who failed in this great test called life. On the one side will be the failures, in the story he called them the “goats”. On the other side would be those who passed the test, those he referred to as “sheep”. Donald Trump ought to love this story, it haslosers and winners built right in!
What is interesting about the scene he paints, is that in both instances…both the goat-failures and the sheep-star pupils… both sides are surprised at their place in the story. The sheep say, “Hey wait? I am a sheep? How did I get to be a sheep?” And at the very next minute the goats say, “Me? Really? I am a goat? What makes me a goat?” They say this in response to Jesus upside-down grading scale revelation which says, “I was secretly hiding all the time, acting like a human in need and whatever you did to me determined your passing (or failing) grade.” Most people of the Christian faith know this story and have read it many times. In the end it seems that it is unremembered acts of kindness that create a pass/ fail grade in this course called life.
If we think of life as if it were a pass/fail college course, it’s interesting to reflect how awful it would be to have a professor who graded like this. Imagine a college professor who looked out over her class and said, “Listen up. Put down your pencils, because in the end everyone who thinks they are going to pass this course is actually going to fail and everyone thinks they are going to fail is actually going to pass.” If a professor said this, all the students would say, “We’ll what’s the point of studying?” It’s not an encouraging or very fair sounding grading scale.
Christians today fall into two basic camps regarding this story. A more liberal reading of this section says this: Fundamentalists beware! Heaven and Hell, in and out, end times fears and judgments …are all based on random acts of human kindness. Jesus hits them all here as he talks about the basics of human need: clothing, food, hospitality, serving the downtrodden … those are the things that really matter. Indeed, liberals would not call it a “liberal” reading…they would call it a literal reading. To be sure it’s pretty hard to read it any other way.
This more liberal reading of this text often evokes the classic liberal response to organized religion, which is: “Well then I am not going to study. Sounds like its all about being nice and a good humanitarian, so to heck with all this religion stuff. Jesus just wants us to be nice to people.” If goats and sheep are not delineated based on adherence to faith tenants, then to heck with the faith and church and scripture memorizing and morality and religion stuff! I’ll just be extra nice when I can.
The more conservative reading favored by Evangelicals says that while these great humanitarian acts are certainly important, the real point of that story is the over-all message of what they like to call “the cross”. This cross-language for evangelicals is very important stuff. They rightly point out that the answer to every one of Jesus, “when did I see you” questions can be answered by the cross. Surely the disciples who saw him imprisoned and crucified must have later reflected on this story after the fact: When did I see you naked? When did I see you in prison? When did I see you thirsty? When did I see you lonely? All of those can literally be answered with the simple answer, “On the cross”. There’s your message. Go preach it!
What we know from the end of the Biblical account is that the original disciples initially scattered and quit, but then after just a few days they rallied and became so sold out for the cause that everyone last one of them would go to their death in defense of their faith. This happened, according the the New Testament, only after he chased them down and super-naturally appeared to them. A few thousand years later, with an inquisition and plenty of foibles behind them, a few billion of these followers are still hanging around and now reside in what some like to call “Christian Nations”. Personally,I can’t help but think that such a term would give Jesus the willies.
The Sheep and the goats story indeed covers the great scope of human need. The very issues mentioned by Jesus in this story are the same ones that form the primary list of concerns we see both in short term relief efforts to help refugees and in longer term efforts to build sustainable and scalable “development” solutions. These issues drive todays World Bank, they make up the “three legs of the stool” for USAID’s development criteria, they compose much of the Millennium Development Goals. Thoughtful, post-Christian or non-Christian, secular people who seek to make the world a better place realize that there is nothing really new in the world of “international development” as they call it. Development programs and policies are about feeding the hungry, giving justice to the forgotten, drilling wells for the thirsty, empowering and educating the estranged and disadvantaged. The very same issues Jesus pegged centuries ago in this sheep and goats story. Non-religious humans do these things, these acts of kindness, because they are good and right and true.
But those like Donald Trump who like to evoke terms like “Christian Nation,” should have an extra, added motivation and mandate that supersedes any noble humanitarian notions within them. They have, or should have, Jesus speaking to them once again the old familiar sheep and the goats story, and both camps, the right-wingers and the left-wingers should feel some uneasiness in their midst. The right-wingers, poised to use the cross as a way to crucify and condemn their enemies, better re-read the story and note who the losers were. Left-ish Christians, should note the original disciples response to that question, “Lord when did we see you hungry?” The original disciples did not go out and start hospitals and schools at first, instead they preached the cross. But in doing so they did not simply speak about the cross and use it as a whipping post for non-Christians, they lived the cross. They lived self-sacrificial lives. They pooled resources. They fed the hungry, the gave water to the thirsty, not because they wanted to be do-gooder humanitarians, but because they wanted a genuine, cross-like response in the coming judgement.
So for Mr Trump and any self-described Christians concerned with making America great again, perhaps we would do well to study up on Jesus’s definition of greatness. Then check CNN and see if we can find Jesus thinly disguised, huddled along various European boarders dressed as a Muslim, Syrian refugee.
Mark Moore is a contributor to Huffington Post and Author of Nourish: A God who Loves to Feed Us.