Of sheep and goats
by Cathy Ramey
"'The time has come, the walrus said, 'To talk of many things: Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax - Of cabbages - and kings - And why the sea is boiling hot - And whether pigs have wings.'"
From Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose to the grim stories of the Brothers Grimm, animals hold a prominent place in literature. There are horses that talk, a cow that jumps over the moon, blind mice and laughing dogs, pigs who are carpenters, and kittens that lose their mittens. All of them are meant to personify real people in one way or another, and while some of the characterizations are flattering others are not.
Scripture too talks about animals. There is the great sea monster leviathan and an ass that opens his mouth to prophesy against his wicked owner. There are pigs that perish in the sea, and the colt of a donkey fit for a conquering King. And while not all of Scripture presents animals with the intent to personify people, there are those moments when the inspired Word of God does just that. Take the sheep and goats of Matthew 25 for instance.
Prolifers -- especially rescuers -- are familiar with the Matthew 25 passage, it's become part of the rhetoric used to compell others to activism. It is paraphrased for prolife purposes something like this, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was in prison and you came to visit me, I was an unborn child about to be murdered in an abortion facility and you rescued me."
I can recite the lines without searching my memory at all. You see, I've heard them repeated in rousing rally speeches, and I've watched them tumble from the lips of individual rescuers intent on convincing other Christians of the biblical nature of direct intervention at a door to save the life of a child. I've muttered the mantra myself in the past. It sounds good. In fact, it sounds so right that I was shocked when my pastor chided me for a misapplication of Scripture.
"You're taking Scripture out of context," he warned me. "That Scripture doesn't have anything to do with abortion. You can't use that Scripture to convince me that it's alright to [rescue] babies by breaking the law," he continued, referring to my attempt to convince him that abortion clinic blockades were something that Christians ought to engage in. The principle of direct intervention in the case of the unborn, he argued, might or might not be right, but Matthew 25 was definitely the wrong proof text.
Like so many Christian leaders, he sounded as though he were pulling at straws to distract away from the idea that Christians have a responsibility to do more than tolerate annual speeches on the plight of the unborn. I walked away feeling frustrated that he wanted to argue particulars while I wanted to convey the importance of a principle.
Later I flipped through the pages of my Bible to reflect on what he had said. In fact, I've reflected on Matthew 25 many times since that conversation. The passage speaks volumes about backbone in these trying times, and yes, he was right, it has nothing in particular to do with rescuing babies at the door of an abortuary.
Matthew 25 is a parable meant to illustrate the separation that will be made between the righteous and the unrighteous on that final day when God will effectively stop the clock of opportunity for salvation. In the scene under inspection, the Son of Man has presented Himself in His glory, and He is seated on a throne of judgment. Before Him are a multitude of animals that, to the undiscerning eye, might be thought to be part of the same herd. To the Shepherd though there are characteristics that mark some as members of His sheep herd and others as imposters or goats.
Everyone knows the gist of the story, Jesus separates the righteous off to His right and the others to His left. Turning to those on the right He welcomes them into His kingdom and their reward, after all, they were kind to the lonely and afflicted, generous with the hungry, and compassionate to the poor, He tells them.
In fact, He tells them more than that. In Matthew 25 we are told specifically which lonely, afflicted, hungry, and poor they were kind to.
"The King will reply," we are told, "'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.'" Only thirteen chapters earlier this same Matthew has divinely prescribed the relationship of "brother" to the Lord (12:46-50). It is the one who "does the will of My Father in heaven," he records Jesus as saying.
The author of the book of Luke records the same event and quotes the Lord as having said, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice" (8:21). Not everyone is kin to the King.
These days it has become cliche in the prolife movement to condemn the likes of Michael Griffin and Paul Hill. After all, they have done what the rest of us will not do, they have actually stopped completely stopped a killer from continuing on with the grissly business of butchering babies. Though the fact alone without guidance from the Word of God would not justify a use of force, they, in effect, saved the lives of an untold number of people.
Now I know, there are those who would contest the idea that babies were kept from death, but if keeping an abortionist away from his mill and victims for a single day by blocking doors saves lives, it is disengenuous of the anti-Hill faction to claim that "there are no guarantees that shooting the abortionist saved lives."
But worse than being disengenuous, these apologists for the abortionist may one day learn that they have tread upon the particulars and the principle of Matthew 25 as though family ties are of no consequence to the King. With the flimsiest of christianeze rhetoric Bible verses pulled out of context is a mainstay of the argument these folks have condemned a fellow Christian, and have aligned themselves with the gospels of Blackmun and Stevens rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Does anyone smell goat hair here?
It is all well and good to talk about "loving" the unsaved, including the abortionist, but it's unconvincing when we have yet to learn how to love those who are members of our own family. While the stampede to put space between Hill and the "right-to-life movement," and more than that, to condemn the man may appease a donor-base or have spiritual sounding undertones, in reality it is the sort of shabby dismisal of a brother that is sure to prove out that there are those in the movement who belong in a goat pen.
Of course the anti-Hill faction will insist that they must condemn him in the strongest possible terms in the hope that he will "repent" of having saved several children, and this style of condemnation is simply their rendition of "tough love." They will insist in unspoken ways that "love" toward the abortionist means that the continuing sacrifice of smaller people must go on, at least until the abortionist tires of his trade. The only ones left out of their "love" quotient are the innocent unborn.
This same "love" logic would not even be considered were a madman to go in to shoot up a classroom full of children.After all, the victims in the classroom case are born people.
Frankly, I'm tired of explaining the ins-and-outs as to why Christians would do well to reconsider their off-the-cuff condemnation of those who treat innocent born and unborn with the same dignity. Those who will hear have heard, I suspect, and those who prefer the momentary safety of siding with Blackman, and Roe, Kate Michaelman, and the rest who coop in the murder of children simply will not hear. But it bears considering that to make cavalier judgments against a brother of the Lord can bring about painful judgment upon oneself in the end.