A game for goats

A game for goats November 22, 2005

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, don't say anything without your lawyer present."
— Matthew 25:31 (American version)

OK, I've seen this LiquidGeneration game [warning: it plays music] linked to from a few places.

It's pretty funny — either despite or because of its combination of irreverence and callousness. The description of the game is simple:

Jesushomeless

Have you ever gotten a homeless person confused with the Son of God, Jesus Christ? Well we certainly have. Now, utilizing the new LiquidGeneration game Homeless or Jesus? you can test your ability to differentiate between the two.

Playing the game produces a series of details from various photographs of bearded men, about half of whom are street people and the other half actors portraying Jesus Christ (or, in one case, Jesus Quintana). You have to guess which is which before seeing the full photo.

I get the gag, and like I said, it's pretty funny. But it's bad theology. "Is this Jesus or is this a homeless street person?" is a misleading question because, as far as we're concerned, a homeless street person is Jesus:

Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

For those who claim to be followers of Jesus, this passage (from Matthew 25) doesn't provide a great deal of wiggle room. So, naturally, it tends to provoke a great deal of wiggling.

Many American evangelicals lunge for a technical, lawyerly reading of the above — one that hangs on an exculpatory reading of the phrase "these brothers of mine." That phrase, they insist, qualifies and limits Jesus' call to feed/clothe/house/tend/visit "the least of these." This qualifier, they say, means they are only obliged to care for their fellow believers.

This is an age-old trick. First we question the obligation itself, asking the question of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" And when that fails to get us off the hook, we try to limit the obligation, turning to the Pharisees' question: "Who is my neighbor?"

So, according to this dodge, we don't need to treat these difficult/addicted/smelly street people as if they were Jesus because they aren't "brothers" of his — those scruffy Samaritans aren't on our team.

But even by this parochial standard, we seem to be in trouble. Millions of Christians, after all, are among the billions of desperately poor people in this world scraping by (or not) on less than $1 a day. If we want to avoid hearing, "Depart from me, you who are cursed … For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat" then we'll need to figure out some way of further limiting this passage.

But don't worry, our best lawyers are working on it.


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31 responses to “A game for goats”

  1. Fred, this is why I love your blog. I’m a crabby old atheistic bastard, and whenever I start thinking that Christians in this country are a bunch of evil, grasping warmongers, I come here and am reminded that there are those whose faith prompts them to something more than lip service. You and I arrive at very similar ethical systems via very different personal routes, and I always find that fascinating. Keep up the terrific work.

  2. Clearly since the speaker was “a king” he was refering princes ie “these brothers of the mine” so if you aren’t royalty we don’t need to feed/clothes you…

  3. Yeah, I _love_ that passage. Like many of your readers, I’m not a Christian, but that bit makes the whole theology something worth keeping around. I dunno, though, somehow my last week hasn’t quite finished. Could it be that something got left behind?

  4. Fred, obviously you’ve not read the last book of the Left Behind series yet. It has the most amazing (not in the good sense) interpretation of that passage I’ve ever seen. In it, the “brothers” mean Israel and the goats are the ones who didn’t support Israel’s apartheid against the Palestinians. Well, that’s an overstatement, but only in the word “apartheid.” My jaw dropped.

  5. I can’t help but wonder if the title–A Game of Goats–is a reference to George R.R. Martin. Somehow, that makes this post even better.

  6. A few weeks ago, our rector was preaching on the Beatitudes and made a comment describing genuine Christian love: “a Christian is one who stays with those who have been left behind.”
    He wasn’t refering to The Worlds Worst Books, I am certain, but I thought it was a perfect summary of what’s wrong with Left Behind theology.

  7. Have you ever gotten a homeless person confused with the Son of God, Jesus Christ?
    Well, I’ve gotten at least one homeless child confused with the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
    I expect there were one or two people at the time who wrote it off as a Those People story.

  8. I was reminded of this at the homily at Mass this past Sunday, where the Gospel reading was the reading from this chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. The priest giving the homily reminded us that Jesus didn’t place limits on His giving, or ask if the recipients of his healing were “deserving”, or “worthy.”

  9. I went to a Christmas play (OK, series of skits, really) at my husband’s co-worker’s church. The co-worker’s wife was in the play as a homeless woman who imparts some pretty good wisdom.
    After the play, I complimented her on her performance, and said she’d sold the part fairly well. I then asked how much time she’d spent talking with homeless people and she looked startled, and said she’d never talked to a homeless person, and had I ever done so?
    “A couple of times a month, at least.” She was really, really surprised. I couldn’t understand how anyone could go without talking to a homeless person at least once in a while!

  10. This is an age-old trick. First we question the obligation itself, asking the question of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And when that fails to get us off the hook, we try to limit the obligation, turning to the Pharisees’ question: “Who is my neighbor?”
    Our hypothetical lawyer would probably warn us not to ask questions like that…

  11. Nice take, but you’ve got it backwards. Homeless street people aren’t Jesus. Jesus was a homeless street person.

  12. Damn it. I’m a conservative Catholic who comes here to enjoy the L.B. takedown, and I mostly try to ignore the liberal politics and apparent liberal theology. But more often than not you make good points like this. I still think you’re too much of a commie lib, but you’re an insightful commie lib. Cheers!
    And Happy Thanksgiving,
    Christopher

  13. ISTR reading a dispensationalist reading of the text that basically said one’s post mortem treatment depended on how one treated Jews, since “the least of my brothers” obviously refers to the chosen people, i.e. the Jews. Voila! Now you can just walk by the homeless guy and feel no guilt.OTOH, discussions like this can lead to a great deal of self-righteousness in the mold of, “Man, I am so much more insightful than my co-religionists. Yay me!” Which leads to its own set of concerns.

  14. Andrew, my sister always says when reading the parable of the publican and the pharisee, “Lord, I give thee thanks that I am not as this pharisee!”
    Along the same lines, Screwtape’s comment that the “cure” for humility in humans is to induce in them the thought, “By Jove, I’m being humble!”–the resultant wave of self-congratulation completely removes all humility.

  15. Andrew —
    This leads to the disturbing question, how does the dispensationalist find out if a particular homeless person is Jewish?
    “Well, I’d like to give you that fifty cents for the coffee, but first, I need to ask you a few things … “

  16. Maybe everyone is taking this as obvious, but speaking from the department of the excessively literal-minded, I feel like someone needs to mention this.
    it’s bad theology. “Is this Jesus or is this a homeless street person?” is a misleading question because, as far as we’re concerned, a homeless street person is Jesus
    …surely this is the whole point of the game? In other words, the game points out that their indistinguishable (visually) reminding us that we should distinguish them (morally)? To say the game has bad theology strikes me as precisely backwards: this is a game all about the passage of Mathew you quoted.
    (Oh, and I echo Andrew Cory about feeling like last week was left unfinished… left behind, one might say…)

  17. I will readily confess that this is a passage that causes me to struggle. Not so much because I think it calls us to only help fellow Christians (as opposed to ANYONE who happens to be in need), but because I know that I (and, I expect, most believers) am so inconsistent in practicing what it calls me to do. It’s not that I never help those “least of these,” but I certainly haven’t always done so. In fact, I confess to actively avoiding such people on occasion. I make no excuses for this behavior.
    But that’s the thing. There are legitimate times that I can say “But I did help those who needed it,” and have made the effort, just as I have to admit that I have not always done so. I’ve been inconsistent. I expect that this is true for most of us. Where does that leave us in the parable, though? I’m not at all sure.

  18. R.A. Lovett: I *thought* that passage sounded strangely ritualistic. But now I see what LaHaye really had in mind. {sigh} SOMEONE needs to take a closer look at what the Good Samaritan parable actually signified (remember–not only did the people of Judah detest Samaritans, the obverse was true as well).
    I wish I knew why so many people have to justify helping others to themselves by thinking of them as brothers/sisters. Is a feeling of kinship really necessary to help another? Just because they’re not similar to you in any notable way doesn’t mean they’re chimera…

  19. B-W, as best as I understand it, your failure to help those in need means you failed to help those in need. And when you avoided helping those in need then you were probably committing some sort of sin. And when you say you helped sometimes so shouldn’t you get some credit then you sinned again. Means you’re not perfect and still have work to do. Good luck!

  20. Thanks so much for this, Fred. It puts me in mind of the constant arguments I used to have with a hyperlegalistic acquaintance about this very parable. He of course hung everything on the “who is my neighbor” argument, which rang very restricted-country-club to my ears. But this was a guy who insisted that Matthew 20:1-16 and Matthew 25:14-30 illustrated that the Kingdom of God works by capitalist principles and private ownership of wealth, and that contributions to the poor are meant to be voluntary and not compulsory. And that never made much sense to me, either – you know, the Son of God never struck me as the “only if you feel like it” type.
    Anyway, this was refreshing. Thanks again and happy tryptophan overdose to all.
    And P.S. – right on, Skyknight!

  21. Many American evangelicals lunge for a technical, lawyerly reading of the above — one that hangs on an exculpatory reading of the phrase “these brothers of mine.” That phrase, they insist, qualifies and limits Jesus’ call to feed/clothe/house/tend/visit “the least of these.” This qualifier, they say, means they are only obliged to care for their fellow believers.
    Doesn’t this statement imply that the evangelicals are actively searching for an acceptable, and hidden, interpretation? And if that’s what they are doing, then aren’t they turning their backs on their claim that Scripture has a plain-sense meaning and doesn’t need to be, or shouldn’t be, interpreted?
    Just some random questions, that’s all.

  22. Doesn’t this statement imply that the evangelicals are actively searching for an acceptable, and hidden, interpretation? And if that’s what they are doing, then aren’t they turning their backs on their claim that Scripture has a plain-sense meaning and doesn’t need to be, or shouldn’t be, interpreted?
    Well, if one needed evidence that fundamentalists (“evangelicals” describes a FAR broader group of Christians, of which I’m proud to be a part, and I wholeheartedly reject the “plain-sense” interpretation of Scripture as described by most fundamentalists) are inconsistent in their interpretation of Scripture. One need only look at The Worst Books Ever Written. (By the way, we’re behind one Left Behind Friday, aren’t we?)
    I mean, just look at the example of their interpretation of the “Sheep and Goats” bit above. Can anyone REALLY claim that’s a “plain-sense” interpretation of that passage?

  23. Ah yes, Matthew 25. A passage that should strike fear into every self-professed Christian on the planet.
    Nice work, Fred. Keep it up.

  24. “Is this Jesus or is this a homeless street person?” is a misleading question because, as far as we’re concerned, a homeless street person is Jesus
    Thanks for reminding me of that…

  25. Skynight, good point.
    The thing that always bothers me re this passage isn’t that there are neighbors who are street people, etc., but that (a) there are so many; and (b) how does this passage apply to one’s not knowing who is or isn’t trying to scam you. I remebmer once giving train fare to somoene who asked as the bus was approaching, only to have him dash for the bus, flip out a monthly pass, and hop aboard. So I figure there’s something to be said for giving to the homeless shelter, rather than directly to the purported homeless…

  26. I couldn’t understand how anyone could go without talking to a homeless person at least once in a while!
    They’re called suburbs.

  27. how does this passage apply to one’s not knowing who is or isn’t trying to scam you.
    By inspiring you to find more appropriate ways to give. Remember, Jesus didn’t say “I asked you for a few bucks and you gave it to me,” but “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” If you give to an organization that feeds the hungry, you have done that.
    I sometimes give money to the homeless, but when possible I give food instead. If I don’t give have food and am uncomfortable with giving money, I still try to give something, a smile, or word of encouragement, or simply an acknowledgement of their existence. I’ve been told that one of the most painful aspects of homelessness is “invisibility.” People walk right past you as if you don’t exist, and when you speak to them, they pretend not to hear. Simply treating the poor as human beings, even if that means saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t help” can be a gift in itself.

  28. It is interesting to note the loophole the fundamentalists have created. They believe the parables in Matthew 25 do not apply to them at this juncture; they will only apply after the second coming of Jesus. Therefore, it’s ok to walk past the homeless in the parking lot on your way to your SUV. You don’t need to invite him home to your McMansion because this only applies at the second coming.
    Souce: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=2279
    “These parables have often been mis-interpreted in the past because people do not look at the context. The context is the tribulation and the second coming of Christ.”
    “These parables don’t apply directly to us, but they do teach that even with all the signs of the tribulation, the second coming will be unexpected. If that is true, then how much more so with the Rapture. We need to look to ourselves and see if we believe. I’m not saying we need to doubt our salvation. We just need to be sure. Have we just been going to church all our lives because our parents went and never placed our personal faith in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins? Perhaps we need to think about making tracts and have plans for their distribution after we are raptured so that people will get the message during the tribulation. But we don’t need to wait until the tribulation to witness.”

  29. What if a homeless person has told you he is Jesus Christ? Or if more then one is claiming to be?

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