One of the big news stories this past week has been about accusations against actor and comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women over the tenure of his career . . . at least a dozen women from his past have accused him of assault. Needless to say, it has created quite a stir in the world of public opinion because Cosby is seen as an iconic figure by many within our society. In particular, Cosby is often seen as a pretty outstanding citizen . . . a regular Cliff Huxtable from his last sitcom—The Cosby Show, in which he played a wise family man raising his family with good humor and love. He is also seen as a voice in which he challenges the men of his race to stand by their families and children and be good role models. He has been lifted up to the pedestal and suddenly he is being toppled. Bill Cosby apparently is not the person everyone thought he was . . . turns out he was pretty human after all.
Of course the problem is that none of us likes to see the role models and heroes we adore knocked off of their pedestals. When this happens we suddenly don’t have anything to hang onto . . . nothing to emulate towards . . . the foundation kind of crumbles. We are kind of lost . . . and, we really don’t know what to think. We see this in the wide range of reactions to the accusations made against Cosby . . . the man has lost a lot of revenue in the past week as he has had shows canceled across the nation, he has had television specials shelved, and lots of biting commentary thrown his way . . . yet, on the other hand, he was also given a standing ovation at his first performance since the accusations began to fly, he has had some pretty big celebrities step up to defend him, and there has been an equal amount of press praising him and putting down the accusations. No one is quite certain where they want to stand on this situation.
The question is: Is Bill Cosby a “saint” or a “sinner”? Or, to use the terminology of our scripture reading this morning, is he a “sheep” or a “goat”? To be honest, he is neither . . . he is a “geep”. What is a “geep”? A “geep” is a cross between a sheep and a goat. And, yes, there are such things as “geeps” . . . they do exist. Look it up . . . a “geep” is a cross between a sheep and a goat, and they have been around for quite a while too.
Therein lies the problem . . . when it comes to this image of “sheep” and “goats” as spoken about in our reading this morning the lines are blurred . . . it is a rare case when we are able to witness an individual who is truly all “sheep” or all “goat” . . . the true is that most people are somewhere in-between . . . they are a combination of “sheep” and “goat” . . . they are “geeps”. Sometimes they are good and saintly, sometimes they are bad and sinful . . . but most of the time they are usually stuck somewhere in the middle.
If this is the case, well then, we are all up the proverbial creek without a paddle. “Lord, when did we see you . . .” That is the crux of the issue in our reading this morning . . . our reading about judgment. The scene is heaven. The people have been gathered and separated into herds of “sheep” and “goats” to be judged. The “sheep” are rewarded, the “goats” are condemned. When receiving their judgment both sides ask the same question: “Lord, when did we see you . . .” To which the Son of Man replies . . . when I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, and in prison. The difference between the two . . . the “sheep” responded to those situations, the “goats” did not. The judgment comes upon “action” . . . did someone do something. Those who did were “sheep” . . . those who didn’t were “goats”.
So, what are you? Are you a “sheep”? Are you a “goat”?
I would hope that we can be honest with ourselves as we consider this question . . . honest enough to admit that being a person of faith . . . being a follower of Jesus . . . be a child of God . . . is pretty darn hard work. Hard work because the world and the lives that we live are not all black and white . . . that the world and the lives that we live are colored by a huge array of colors and hues that live between the simplicity of “black” and the “white” we wish the world would be. Honest enough to admit to ourselves that those situations which Jesus mentioned are not as simple as just giving a cup of water to a thirsty person, as throwing clothes on a naked individual, or even welcoming a stranger into our midst. With those and many other situations in our lives we realize that there is a full gamut of directions that these can go . . . some good, some bad. We are neither “sheep” or “goats” . . . we are “geeps”.
Because we are “geeps” . . . this cross between “sheep” and “goats” . . . this cross between “saint” and “sinner” . . . we kind of get nervous at reading this passage of judgment as offered in the Gospel of Matthew. If it is a black and white understanding of this passage that we must embrace; well then, we are—as I said earlier—up the proverbial creek without a paddle. We all fall into the category of being “goats”.
But, we’re not!
We are not purely “goats” . . . not purely “sheep”! We are somewhere in-between . . . somewhere between the two. Shoot, I wonder how many “sheep” from history we can name . . . “goats” I would imagine would be easier; but, the fact is, in comparison to the rest of the world, both the “sheep” and “goats” we hold up as examples only represent a small portion of the population . . . so where are the rest of us?
We are in the herd of “geeps”.
We are in the herd of “geeps” trying like crazy to do the right thing. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, and sometimes we don’t even try. Sometimes it makes us feel really good to have it right, sometimes it makes us sad to have gotten it wrong, and most of the time it keeps us on our toes in hopes that we don’t screw up. The bottom line is that we try our best and hope that it is good enough that we avoid eternal punishment . . . sometimes we hope that maybe—by the time we get to the judgment day—that God comes up with a third category, like the “geeps”, that acknowledges our efforts of coming close, but not quite there yet.
However you look at this passage the point is still the same . . . we are to open our eyes to the presence of Jesus in our lives and to respond to him. Maybe Jesus lived in simpler times than we live in today . . . maybe the issues were more black and white than they are today . . . maybe it was easier to delineate between right and wrong in order to do the right thing . . . to have the correct response. Yet, for those of us who see themselves as the followers of Jesus . . . who have embraced him into our lives and into who we are as the children of God, we do have a sense of what that “presence” of Jesus is when we encounter it. We know it when we see it, or we know it shortly after having encountering it with perfect 20/20 hindsight. And, being true to ourselves and our nature we have either responded with action or inaction or by averting our eyes. We are neither “sheep” or “goats” . . . we are “geeps”.