~ Fat Cats and Fat Sheep ~
Metaphors used to illustrate truth change over time and vary from culture to culture. Sheep have a relatively minor role in Western agriculture today so we don’t speak of them metaphorically very much. Cats and dogs are the dominant animal friends of people and an important part of our domestic culture. Thus the thought, let alone the practice, of eating them is quite repulsive to Westerners. Yet we don’t appreciate or understand why the people of some impoverished provinces of India don’t eat their cows. Americans also forgot or don’t know that we created agencies such as the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) more then a half century before any agency was established to prevent cruelty to our children.
Westerners do have “sacred cows.” They are not animals, but power and money. “Fat cats” are the guardians of our sacred cows, and they are not animals either. They are the bosses of corporations, bureaucracies, and even nations that keep them well fed and powerful.
Although the US Constitution prohibits the government from interfering with the free practice of faith communities, churches are still forced to establish themselves as corporate businesses to be legally “recognized” and “protected.” Thus we must be vigilant and pray “lead us not into temptation” to adopt the secular corporate spirit. The kingdom of God is not a corporation and the churches charged with the mission of disseminating the Gospel must not resemble them.
Unfortunately, many churches have increasingly incorporated secular techniques and marketing strategies to build growth in numbers and capital. Of course this is always said to be done “for the glory of God,” which makes it ok to do in the eyes of people. The merchants selling sacrificial animals and sacramentals to the Jerusalem pilgrims in the temple courtyard were acting for God’s glory also. However, this temple-sanctioned business inspired Jesus to make the only thing recorded that He fashioned as a human, a knotted whip, which He effectively used to clean up sacred grounds.
Modern idolatry extends to the worship of power, money and their guardians. Idolatry is biblically prohibited not only because God is to be the sole subject of worship, but to avoid a terrible consequence of unwanted and destructive transformation: “Those who make idols end up like them. So does everyone who trusts them” (Psalms 115:8, GW).
In the very beginning of the Church, “the whole group of believers lived in harmony. No one called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything. With great power the apostles continued to testify that the Lord Jesus had come back to life. God’s abundant good will was with all of them. None of them needed anything. From time to time, people sold land or houses and brought the money to the apostles. Then the money was distributed to anyone who needed it” (Acts 4:32-35, GW). This practice was in keeping with Christ’s mandate to not expect returns, like interest, on money lent or invested (Luke 6:30-31).
A few hundred years later the modern corporate mentality encroached on the Christian mainstream community when expensive church building needed funding. An ethical dilemma rose because Christians still would not lend interest-free cash. The Jewish sectors would, however, and so ensued the business partnership wherein Jewish investors financed Christian projects at a profit return and everyone was happy. Of course, this was a pre-modern way of getting around Jesus’ teaching by technically keeping a Christian practice “legal” but violating its spirit. Once you crack the door open, it is easy to keep pushing it further open. Soon the church leadership raised money through the sale of sacramentals and services while the secular leaders profited from the sale of church offices and titles over which they had control.
Reforms were called for from both within the church and those who left it. The mystical body of Christ, which is the Church is infused with the Holy Spirit, is composed of humans striving through ongoing sanctification. Our institutional churches must always practice ongoing reform. “That is why you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, GW).
Switching from cats to sheep, God had some poignant words for the fat sheep of Israel, with universal applications: “Shouldn’t shepherds take care of the sheep? You eat the best parts of the sheep, dress in the wool, and butcher the finest sheep. Yet you don’t take care of the sheep. You have not strengthened those that were weak, healed those that were sick, or bandaged those that were injured. You have not brought back those that strayed away or looked for those that were lost…Isn’t enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you trample the rest of the pasture with your feet? You drink clean water, Must you muddy the rest of the water with your feet?…You fat sheep push the skinny sheep with your sides and shoulders, and you knock down all the sick sheep with your horns…
“So I will rescue my sheep and they will no longer be prey. I will judge between one sheep and another. Then I will place one shepherd over them, my servant David… I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be their prince. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Ezekiel 34:2b-4a, 18, 21a, 22-23a, 24, GW).
The lineage of David, of course, produced the incarnation of the Christ Shepherd. His sheep are dispersed throughout all nations, churches, corporations, factories, farms, prisons, homeless shelters, orphanages and refugee camps. Many are children abandoned by or forced from their parents. Many are elderly and abandoned by or forcibly separated from their children. Many are strays and Christ ardently looks for them. Many of the lost sheep keep looking for the Shepherd. But many of the lost don’t want to be found, trusting in their sacred cows.
The Christ Shepherd said His sheep know His voice and follow it. If every one of His sheep in every home, work place and church listened only for that wise, loving, redemptive voice and followed it at whatever personal cost, “your kingdom come” would be a prayer fulfilled on earth “as it is in heaven.”
That is the power of the Gospel, for the kingdom dwells within us, the body of Christ. His voice will keep us there. It is the only voice worth following. The only one that incarnates is truth and life and that will never die or be silenced.
We can be powerful bosses or laborers who live from pay check to pay check, there will be many moments that we can seize to courageously fuse the death and resurrection of Christ into our lives. Isn’t this part of Paul’s injunction to be “living sacrifices”? To succeed in manifesting the kingdom of God wherever we work and live, in whatever we do, in addition of being perpetually mindful of His voice, we must practice seizing every “paschal moment.”
That’s a way to “lay our lives down for our friends,” over and over. And Jesus called that the ultimate love.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © September 21, 2002
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.
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