J Walking

J Walking

Baaaa or Maaaaaa?

posted by David Kuo

Being a dad, I am strong in the animal sounds category. Pigs oink and cows mooo and rhinos snort and snuff (astute readers of Moo, Baa, La la la will get that reference) sheep baaa and goats maaaa.
Jesus warns that at the end of days the nations will be brought before him and he will separate out the sheep from the goats. The goats, to put it colloquially, are screwed. The sheep will be living large. And the difference? A consonant – a b or an m… a baaa or a maaa.
It is a haunting scene he lays out at the end of Matthew 25. There has been much theological debate about what it means and who the animals represent. Many argue that what Jesus is saying here doesn’t apply to those who follow him – that this is a sort of second chance for those who hadn’t made the decision to follow him. Others argue that this is a terrifying challenge for all believers – a challenge to never become comfortable in their faith.
I don’t know what it means. I do know, however, that it has haunted me.
One sleepless night in Uganda I started thinking of this passage in a new way.
The thing that haunted me is the thing that haunts many who read the passages. Jesus is saying to one group that as they served the least of the world they were serving him. And he was saying to another group that as they failed to serve the least they failed to serve him. But what does serving him mean? Jesus says that as they visited the imprisoned and fed the hungry and clothed the naked they served him. But how much is enough? How much isn’t enough? What is that line between really serving Jesus and really failing him?
In the midst of the suffering I was witnessing something came clear – my questions were all wrong. Jesus wasn’t saying, “Well, you visited me 9 days a year in prison, welcome to paradise.” He wasn’t saying “Gosh, you only visited me 1 day in prison, see ya.” He was simply saying, “Thank you for serving me as I was found in the least of the least.”
Put more simply he is saying thank you for doing something.
And that is what it is about. We aren’t called to try and solve all the world’s problems. No one person is going to be able to care for the 2.5 million orphans living in Uganda… let alone the millions of orphans in other countries around the globe. We aren’t going to eradicate the slums. We aren’t going to be able to treat every single suffering person. But that isn’t what we are called to do. Jesus just calls us to do something… do anything to help the hurting.
Paralysis in the face of the world’s problems is the one thing we cannot afford to acquire. We have to engage. We have to do. We have to try. We have to make it part of our daily lives. We have to be his hands and feet on this earth.
This thought has liberated me; it has freed me up to do what I can while freeing me from the unrealistic expectation that I am going to be able to do everything… and it has given me the peace to believe that at the end of days I will be baaaaaaing and not maaaaaaaing.

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posted February 23, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Actually, three singing pigs say, “la, la, la!”
But really – thanks for your words on this. I’ve been really dwelling about my own family’s responsibililty to the suffering, particularly in light of your recent trip. It has almost paralyzed me as I seek to reconcile a love for art and beauty as well as a heart for those in need and wonder if it’s okay to still love, still pay for art and beauty when I know how much further that money would go in a third world situation.
I’m still wrestling through it.

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posted February 23, 2008 at 10:28 pm

This argument makes sense to me. The poor will always be with us, after all.
That said, even if you agree that Christianity is true, and even if you agree that the NT is 100% accurate, it’s just not clear how any given person is going to be treated by supernatural beings in the afterlife.
I’m NOT saying you’re indulging hubris in this post. I’m just arguing that this is beyond our understanding. Any conjecture as to what will happen in the hereafter needs to be labeled as conjecture, and offered with spades of humility.

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posted February 23, 2008 at 10:40 pm

You got past the symbolism and found the meaning…..you grasped the spiritual understanding rather than the worldly understanding.

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Psalm 51, me too

posted February 24, 2008 at 8:52 am

If We Are The Body Lyrics
Artist(Band) Casting Crowns:
If we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There is a way
It’s crowded in worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls’ teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know
If we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There is a way
A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tells him that his chances
Are better out on the road
But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the Body of Christ
If we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
Jesus is the way

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Linda Sue

posted February 24, 2008 at 4:45 pm

I am delighted to say I’ll join you in the baaing – which is weird because I raise goats and love the sounds they make. We do what we can – each deed gives us an opportunity to expand our territory (not gain things but learn how to give them away!).

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Pete A.

posted February 25, 2008 at 11:08 am

Dear David,
My whole family has watched your reports on Uganda with great interest. We were thrilled when you got to go, but we’ve held off making any comments till now.
When you said that God had impressed you for some time to go, we suspected it might have a profound effect on your life. And, indeed, it appears it has – very much so.
Now we’ll be watching with equal interest to see what that change turns out to be. Does God want you to write a book? Devote more blogs? Work directly with some agency like Compassion or Samaritans Purse or one or more centered in this country? Be a spokesman like Bono is? We’ve no idea, but we’ll fascinated to watch and see. It may be soon, or may take time, but we’ll be among those praying for God to guide you in it. And, through prayer, he will lead you and “finish the good work he has started in you.” – Pete A.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 11:38 am

Thank you for this post. I cannot tell you what perfect timing it is. Last night, as I prayed, I asked God, “What is enough?” Not so much driven by fear of failing, but fear of disappointing Him. Is feeding the homeless here equivalent to feeding the poor in Uganda? Somtimes, this train of thought really plagues me, and I realize that this is not the point. There is no such thing as “enough,” but if we do what we can, and we do something, then surely it counts as something, right?

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Trish Ryan

posted February 25, 2008 at 12:24 pm

I once heard someone say that what Jesus is asking is for us to love the one he puts in front of us at any given time. That helped me so much. Sometimes “the one” looks like an obvious candidate for help, but mostly, I bump into folks who, on the outside, look like they’ve got it all together. Eventually, though, the place where they need God bubbles up. It’s amazing to see what God does when I don’t decide in advance who I’ll love on His behalf.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm

You’re so right. God just wants us all to do something to help. I lived in Asia Minor for 3 years and when I try to explain it to someone who has never been outside the USA it is difficult. I just always wind up saying something inadequate like the poor there are not like the poor here.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Preved dyatlam!

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Texas in Africa

posted February 25, 2008 at 7:40 pm

David, I totally agree with you that as individuals we aren’t called to fix all the world’s problems and that we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to change one person’s life or a few people’s lives or whatever. But I disagree on a deeper level, because I think that we, collectively, are supposed to be about the work of solving all the world’s problems. What’s the point of Christ’s message of redemption and the call to live out justice if we aren’t supposed to restore the world to what it’s supposed to be? How can we read the words of the Old Testament prophets and not recognize a collective responsibility? An intellectually honest Christian has to admit that poverty has both individual and structural causes, and while I believe with all my heart that helping individuals to overcome their own situations is crucial and important, I’m equally convinced that we have a responsibility to work at a larger level to fix these situations. It’s not enough to help a poor child grow up to be a slightly less poor adult – that’s not Biblical justice. Dealing with huge, structural problems like national debt, disease epidemics, and corruption are key to making it possible for individuals to thrive, and while we can’t individually fix those things, as a church, we can.
From living and working in central Africa, I’ve learned that guilt is a useless emotion. As you say, it’s paralyzing, and it leads to a legalism that doesn’t help anyone. But it seems to me that Matthew 25 tells us that God’s justice is about more than simple acts of charity. It’s about a way of life.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 11:23 pm

I agree that we all can help someone. But the greater need it seems to be in countries where dictators steals all the relief that is sent to the poor. A nation that is rich in resorces such as Africa,should not have the povety that it has. If all the dictators,and crooked business people who are making million of dollars a week,and many people are starving ,it make for a sad situation. My prayer is that the wicked will not continue to abuse the poor in these countries where wickedness is in leadership. We should cry out to God concering the wicked who exploit the poor.

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posted February 26, 2008 at 3:35 pm

To call attention to those who exploit the poor is also an act of charity. To come together and find a way to provide clean water in a single clinic is an act of charity.
I believe it was a Kenyan politician who spoke of the problem of politics in his country – it is all motion without movement. That is what we must avoid. Moving even a bit is still moving. We are talking politics – and within that conversation is the possibility of moving toward the Kingdom of God. It already exists among us – and we have evidence in those pictures that David took and those stories he tells. It is in the moving toward these people – however imperfectly it might happen – that we are changed.

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