The (Parable?) of the Sheeps and Goats

Unlike the first two that indicate explicitly that they are parables, this one only strongly implies it. I don’t really have any doubt as to whether this is presented as a parable, it is just something like pointing out that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, the Pinocchio was swallowed by a whale.

Here’s the story. Jesus returns in all his glory and separates everyone into two groups. The good group gets eternal life. They ask, “Who us? What did we do to deserve such an honor?” Jesus says they helped him when he needed it. They don’t remember ever helping Jesus and he renders another famous line, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” [That is based on another standard from JimII’s VBS background, but I can’t seem to find it on YouTube.]

That’s the sweetness and light bit, then Jesus turns to those on his left:

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They similarly claim never having ignored Jesus, but he points out “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

No the requirement is crystal clear, even down to a list. And the punishment is equally clear. If you don’t help the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, you will go to hell. And in case you missed it, it is the one prepared for the devil–that hell.

It’s been my experience that selfish people suffer. Those who hate the poor, the stranger–they suffer. They live sad lives. And like I said before, wasting your one and only life in the misery brought on by selfish, compassionless words and deeds, that’s pretty much hell.


Parable of the Talents

The next parable is that of three servants. The story is that the Master leaves three servant in charge of huge sums of money, 10, 5 and 1 talent each. The first two invest the money, while the third hides it. When the Master returns, the first two are welcomed into his family, having doubled the amount with which he trusted them. But the last can only return what he has been given. These are the concluding lines of the story:

His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Compare the punishment, the last parable, the foolish virgins are left outside the banquet, evidently in darkness because they needed lamps. Here the darkness has “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and the servant was thrown there. Seems to be a stronger warning.

Also, the misbehavior was more specific. From the first story, I can’t really tell what “being ready” means. I took it to mean living well. But here, the misbehavior is about failing to act, failing to be productive, probably in the larger world. The foolish lazy servant might have thought he was “being ready” by keeping his master’s fortune well hidden. This says, you have to do something.

Is there a penalty for not sharing the gifts God has given you? Even if you don’t believe in God you understand the expression. I think you will live a happier life if you share your gifts with the world. And the consequences of failing to act, are serious business. You only get one life, if you fail to live it well, if you find you’ve wasted it, is that a more or less harsh punishment than being thrown in the outer darkness?


Parable of the Virgins

The first parable from Matthew 25 is found in versus 1 through 13. A little Protestant cultural note, this is the bit that inspired Give Me Oil In My Lamp, a vacation bible school staple from my childhood.

Here’s the story, there are 10 bridesmaids, or virgins depending on your translation, waiting for the bridegroom. But, the bridegroom arrives late, “[t]hen all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ The wise ones tell them no, and while the foolish ones are in town getting oil the doors to the marriage banquet are locked and they are left out.

First, no question about what this story is about. Jesus didn’t come back right away. There was concern about people losing the faith. And this story is a warning about such conduct. You should stay true, because you do not know the day or the hour on which Jesus will return.

Let’s separate the advice from the motivation. The time to live well is now, don’t wait. No matter how things look right now, you should do what is right. I think that is good advice. Maybe the event is not the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but is the death of a loved one, it is an economic down turn, it is a chance to help someone in need, whatever.

Of course, this is hardly a unique teaching. What do you think, is it too much of a stretch to read this for anything other than its apocalyptic meaning?


Apocalypse again

A while ago I sort reviewed the book of Revelation, which tells an apocalyptic story. I reflected on the book and just could not find much in it for me. It seemed to me that the story belonged to an oppressed people celebrating their eventual victory over their oppressors. Not only am I not oppressed, the theme of vengeance was too distracting for me to get past it.

For the last three weeks we’ve read apocalyptic scriptures attributed to Jesus in the book of Matthew. Now, folks at the Jesus Seminar generally do not attribute these words to Jesus. See Robert Miller, Jesus Seminar & Its Critics at footnote 14. In Jesus, Marcus Borg challenges passages that put words of the Second Coming in Jesus’ mouth by noting that the disciples seemed to have trouble understanding the present mission of Jesus, even if there was to be a Second Coming, it seems strange that Jesus would think his disciples could understand it.

All that said, I do find something valuable in the stories from Matthew 25, and I’m going to examine them this week.

A final note, the Matthew 25 network is a group of progressive Christians “inspired by the Gospel mandate to put our faith into action to care for our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable.” As I’ve mentioned before, this group and lots of other progressive Christians who read Matthew 25, focus on Christ’s call to help those in need, I’m going to be focusing on what the passage says happens to you if you don’t.


The Rest of Revelation

So, I’m not going to finish a careful examination of Revelation.

I read through it in one sitting tonight. I am experiencing some troubling times and thought perhaps the theme of trials & tribulation followed by rebirth would be comforting to me. The truth is, it was not. Try as I might to keep focused on this legitimate messages, I could not look past what I think is the real theme of the book: payback.

It is easy to see how a book about the Romans getting theirs would be enjoyed by an oppressed people. Perhaps the reason I found so little inspiration in the book is because I am a citizen of the modern Rome. I think it is more than that.

Sometimes I do feel like I’m living in a world where 1/3 of the seas are turning sour as a result of man’s sins. Sometimes I think there may be powerful people deceiving the masses and causing them suffering. But I don’t want the Armies of Heaven to come down and devour the flesh of my enemies. Frankly, despite John the Revelator’s testimony that it was Jesus speaking to him about these things, it doesn’t sound very much like Jesus.

The triumph at the end of the book did not bring me sufficient hopefulness to undo my uneasiness with John’s revelling in the death of his foes. If there are others out there who are moved by the work, I’d be very interested to hear their experience. For me, I’m afraid I’ve moved into the camp that questions its inclusion in the canon. (Although, maybe the cultural spin-offs justify it: grapes of wrath[14:19], lake of fire [20:14], sea of glass [4:6], pale rider [6:8], the alpha and omega [1:8], etc.) Unfortunately, that probably means I’ll be doomed to be tormented, wishing for death, but that is only supposed to last five months.



To review, we’ve had some sober advice to the various congregations of John’s day. Then he started to talk about this vision or revelation he had. Jesus is there, and the kings of the world are there, and you and you. Anyway, Jesus starts unleashing bad stuff on the world by breaking the seven seals. The feeling of gathering doom is further emphasised when there is a pause to protect some of the chosen:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

See Revelation 7:1-8.

So first, what does it say? It says that we have an angel protecting 12,000 members from each tribe of Israel. It doesn’t say they earned the protection, other than by right of birth. It doesn’t include any Anglo-Saxons.

Is it a large number or a small number? In a time when 40 meant a large number 144,000 seems like a super large number. On the other hand, God isn’t protecting all of the Israelites, and that’s new. You’ve got your 12 times 12 formulation which seems to indicate super holy as well.



The Lion and the Lamb

Here is the Fifth Chapter of Revelation.

I read it as a continuation of the theme of triumph established in the fourth chapter. There is also a hint of the metaphor roller coaster we’ll be on. John the Revelator is at first really upset because no one on heaven and earth is worthy to open the seals, but the elders tell him “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Judah is the tribe of David and Joseph and therefore the tribe of Jesus. Then the very next verse begins, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” We quickly learn that the Lamb is “worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because [it was] slain, and with [its] blood [it] purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

So the Lion is the lamb. Christ is King and Sacrifice. This speaks to me particularly when I think about the metaphorical sanctifying of Abraham, John, Martin and Bobby. [FN1] They were all king and sacrifice. John’s revelation seems to attempt to communicate to the listener/reader this aspect of Jesus, complete with the appropriate — I don’t know — magnitude?

At this point in the book, I am still able to maintain an emotional connection with the author, although I already have lost some of his imagery, such as multi-eyed, six winged beasts.


John the Revelator

I’ve wanted to re-read Revelation for a while now. I think as the weather gets a little more tolerable here in Phoenix, I will begin to treat myself to a cigar and a Scotch after work and return to the project.

It is a short book, for sure. So I know reading it doesn’t seem like a project. But it is so dense with symbols and psuedo-interpretations that fill you mind ahead of time, that I expect it to be a challenge.

Fun fact number one is that the book is a single Revelation to John. Unlike the collections of psalms and lamentations, and unlike letters to groups such as the Ephesians, Romans, and Galatians, the title of the book is singular. (Also, Jonah was not swallowed by a whale, and nothing tells you how many wise men there were. :))

The book has found its way into pop culture. My favorite is the blues song. (Depeche Mode did a John the Revelator wherein they seem to be accusing President Bush of being both the anti-Christ and John the Revelator.)

Here are the first three chapters. This book begins in a very pragmatic fashion. When I looked at it recently I was surprised by this. I mean, who would have thought that the book that has been the source of so many horror movies begins like a letter from the regional minister to churches.