Running in Flip-Flops
March 22, 2012 1 Comment
NT: Matthew 25
Remember how I said we were going double-time? Then I realized that Matthew 25 has one of my favorite Bible bits ever and I would need to gush about it for a long time. Also, that it was 2:45 am. Also, that people probably don’t read my whole post when it’s four hundred pages long. (Okay, so I actually realized that a long time ago.) Since I don’t want any of you to OD on my snark, I might experiment with a modicum of self-control and try out some shorter posts for a while. This would probably mean spilling over the originally designated one-year time frame, but I’m willing to be a little bit flexible about that – but not too flexible, because part of the point of this whole thing is to bring myself (and whatever tenacious barnacles who have clung on for the ride) up to a respectable level of Biblical competency in a reasonable amount of time.
What do barnacles even cling to? Whales? Ships? Whatever it is, I promise it was meant to be a compliment to you, my brave little barnacle-readers. It’s too late to back down. I’m just going to have to own this metaphor. If Lady Gaga can have Little Monsters, I can have my barnacles, dammit.
We’re still talking about the kingdom of heaven, which is getting weirder and weirder. Here’s Jesus’s latest enlightening metaphor:
The kingdom of heaven is like ten bridesmaids who each have an oil lamp. Five of them are smart and have oil in their lamps, and five of them are stupid and have oilless oil lamps. The groom is going to pick them up but he’s late so they all fall asleep. When he comes, the smart ones are ready, but the dumb aren’t because they have no oil, so they ask for oil from the smart ones, but the smart ones tell the dumb ones to suck it and go buy their own damn oil. While the dumb ones are out oil-shopping, the groom leaves with the smart bitches. When the dumb ones show up to the wedding late, the groom is like, “Fuck off, I don’t know you.”
…Yeah, that sounds awesome. Sign me up.
Before a guy goes out of town, he gives some money to each of his servants, and the amount he gives him is directly correlated with how good they are at servanting. But I guess he was only giving them the money for safekeeping, because when he comes home, he demands his money back. The servants who got fives coins and two coins respectively proudly tell him that they invested it and made a profit. (It’s unclear who keeps this profit, the servants or the master.) The master congratulates them. But the servant who only got one coin reports that he buried it in the ground, and the master scolds him for being lazy. The master says that people who have much will get more and people who have little will get nothing. He banishes the lazy servant into the “darkness” where people are “weeping and grinding their teeth” (30).
Sounds like a kingdom for the 1%. No thanks!
Also, can we please reach a verdict on the status of the whole usury thing? The master tells his “lazy” servant, “you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest” (27). I have always heard that usury was allowed in Judaism but forbidden in Christianity, but I discovered in my last post that Exodus 22 (in the Torah) contains a commandment forbidding usury, and now here’s Matthew 24 (in the New Testament) shaming somebody for not embracing it. Whaaat?
Jesus tells everyone that when the Human One returns, he will separate good from bad people like sheep from goats. The righteous will “inherit the kingdom that was prepared for [them] before the world began” and enjoy “eternal life” (34, 46), but the jerks will be sent into “the unending fire” of “eternal punishment” (41, 46). Harsh.
BUT here is also one of the most beautiful, gorgeous, inspiring parts of the Bible that I LOVE. Like, definitely more than the Beatitudes. Jesus explains to the righteous what they have done to gain entrance to the kingdom: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat….I was a stranger and you welcomed me….I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me” (35-36). The righteous people are confused and are like, “I think I’d remember if I visited God in prison…nope, not ringing a bell. Wtf?” And Jesus responds, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (40).
So, first of all, the list of charitable acts is nice, because not only does it cover the basics (obviously it is good to feed the hungry) but also emphasizes the importance of treating the people on the margins of society with dignity and respect, even when it might make you feel uncomfortable: welcoming strangers, caring for the ill, etc. I am especially a fan of the visiting of the prisoners, because we tend to be really bad at extending sympathy and support and respect and helping hands to people who we perceive to have erred. But we all fuck up. We should be lifting those who fall down, even if we know they were running in flip-flops and kind of had it coming.
But verse 40 is even better. In fact, Matthew 25:40 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. This is one of many verses describing how strongly God identifies with humans. One of the things that’s so alluring about the Jesus story is the idea of a God who not only loved and sympathized with humanity, but actually experienced humanness firsthand, and lived as a human, and suffered as a human, and died as a human. In this instance, Jesus calls upon humans to treat each other as though every one of us was a god. Every single one. All the starving people: gods. All the orphans: gods. All the annoying old ladies: gods. All the bullies: gods. All the bullied: gods. All the prisoners: gods. All the judges: gods. All the people you disagree with: gods. All the hypocrites: gods. All the assholes: gods. You: god.
This actually reminds me a bit of Hinduism – “namaste” literally means “the divinity in me recognizes and honors the divinity in you.” I mean, the details depend on the translation, but no matter how you slice it, that is some serious syllabic-semantic economy.
Anyway. I don’t think this is necessarily the original intended meaning of the verse, but part of what I like so much about it is that it puts humanity on an equal footing with god. If you treat your fellow humans any worse than you would treat god himself, you’re not valuing them sufficiently. And this is really what Humanism means to me. I gave up theism – belief in god, love of god, awe of god – for Humanism – belief in humanity, love of humanity, awe of humanity.
WE ARE GREAT, YOU GUYS.
I love us.
One important caveat to the badassery of humanity: I do think people have a tendency to be kind of speciesist about this whole thing. Homo sapiens is not the only awesome organism rocking our world. There are plenty of others who also deserve our attention, love, awe, and especially our respect. We should work on that.