The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Holy Wednesday

Today's theological reflection doesn't come from the story of the passion, but rather from what I spent the afternoon reading in preparation for class tomorrow. First, take a gander at the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25.
     When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  
     Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for 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.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “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?” 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.”  
     Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that 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.” Then they also will answer, “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?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. 
This parable is told often, and interpreted in a way that is unhelpful. You can probably guess that we, the ones sitting in the pews listening to the sermon are, of course, the sheep at the right hand who have done what the Father asks of them. We're doing it now, by being in church on Sunday, aren't we? And by volunteering at that homeless shelter sometimes? And making sure our teenagers go to youth group on Wednesdays. Following in line in our sheep-y ways. And those who do not do good in the world are surely the goats at the left. They have not done what has been required of them. They're not even listening. They're probably eating trash somewhere. Like goats are wont to do.

This is one of the most "us v. them" parables ever -- and I'm just going to come out and say that, if this is what it means, I hate it. But! we're in luck! In her book On the Mystery, Catherine Keller takes this parable apart and redeems it from previous awful interpretation and use. [Italics are hers, bold is mine.] She writes that, "it isn't just our agape toward the marginalized  that counts as care for this Lord. But in failing to care for one of these--at least one? a particular one? every one?--we doom ourselves." Whoa. And she goes on, a paragraph later, to say:
"If in the face of the child abused next door, or joining a gang downtown, or starved and terrified in Darfur, we do not notice the Christ--we have missed him. Which is to say, we betray the ultimate meaning, the "final" meaning, of our own lives. Of our shared creaturely life. It is not just that Jesus is inseparable from the most vulnerable members of our own species; it is that he is teaching that inseparability as our own ultimate condition."
And as if I wasn't obsessed enough with this already, she goes after the sheep and the goats! After this great sticking together of all creaturely life, we've been unstuck in this parable, have we not? She writes:
"Both for those of us who find ourselves marginalized, and for those content to leave the margins as they are, our humanity is at stake. For after all our humanity--and humanity means nothing but a shared life--remains in process and sometimes truly on trial. Our inner "goat" (goats seem to have symbolized to ancient farmers a greedy, competitive aggressor) couldn't care less about those inconsequential others."
And as for the sheep, she writes:
"In an ancient agricultural context, sheep had connotations not of penned-in, passive, and petty obedience, but of a roving co-existence in the wilderness. The parable puts a premium on that cooperative, peaceful spirit, countering the culture of competition and predation. We are not called to be sheepish. No one sheepish visits prisoners or works for the homeless or challenges the predatory systems that keep some poor that others may have abundance. We are called to "flock"--to congregate, to gather, to conspire in the original sense: to collaborate in the spirit of just love."

Boom, sucka.  Think about that for a second. Read the parable again. Read her words again. You'd probably like to be a sheep now, right? And in a different way than you wanted to be a sheep before. And nobody's destined to remain a goat. We're all harboring that inner goatiness. There's not really a division on God's right and left hands. I mean, we know this. But what can we do with the knowledge of our new sheepishness? Sheep of a feather flock together...[sorry].

Maundy Thursday

Holy Tuesday