Will Willimon recently wrote, “Why Jesus” – perhaps the slimmest Magnum Opus published in the history of magnum opi (plural of Magnum Opus? Anyone?)
Willimon is a United Methodist Scholar-Pastor or Pastor-Scholar depending on what time it is, and a modern day prophet as evidenced here. If you decide to read this book, and you should, you better reach in the closet for your big boy pants. Willimon gives you an elegant, impolite punch in the gut with this work. Its the finest beating I’ve received in a while.
Here’s an exerpt:
Toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus offers his parable of the great judgement. (One of the nastiest little stories as far as we religious cognoscenti are concerned.) At the end, the Son of Man shall ascend the throne and judge all the ethnoi, all the peoples. On his left will go the goats – who have not done good to the ‘least of these,’ have not recognized the incognito Christ among the poor, the imprisoned, and the oppressed-and will be punished. “I was in jail, and you never visited me.” On the King’s right will be the sheep, those who having reached out to the ‘least of these’ through their giving, visiting the prisoners, and clothing of the poor, and will be eternally rewarded. “I got busted, and you visited me in jail! Come right into the kingdom.”
Here’s the shock. In Jesus’ story, the sheep talk exactly like the goats – same words, same reaction to the judgement of the Son of Man. “Lord, when did we see you?” The sheep and the goats are equally uninformed.
One expects the goats to be stupid. They don’t go to Sunday school, don’t use gender-inclusive pronouns for God, don’t volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
But in Jesus’ story, the sheep are as dumb as the goats! “Lord, when did we see you?”
The blessed sheep knew enough to visit the prisoner or give the cup of cold water, but they don’t see Jesus much more clearly than the unethical, apathetic goats. They’re all stupid! When it comes to seeing Jesus, in the end, the sheep are as inept as the goats….
Jesus’ story of judgement is more than a peek at ethically correct behavior; its the conclusion of a symphony of ignorance. If you thought that Jesus waited for twenty five chapters of Matthew’s Gospel before finally, at the end, giving us sheep the inside scoop, forget it. The disciples – who have had such difficulty figuring out Jesus for twenty four chapters – are just as stupid t the end as at the beginning. Having followed Jesus since chapter four, they go from dumb to even dumber.
So that’s a taste of Willimon. If that grabbed you, the rest of the book is equally dynamic. You can buy the book here.