Here’s another way to say it: The goal is like a company’s purchasing agent, looking for the next great thing. She finds the deal of the century and uses every penny of the company’s reserved assets to buy it.
Like yesterday’s koan, you still need to be aware enough to recognize what is really valuable, and you still need to be courageous enough to act on what you know.
But unlike yesterday’s koan, this koan makes a subtle shift. Instead of the goal being the thing that is sought and bought, the goal is now the person doing the seeking and buying. In other words, the goal is no longer obtaining or having something, but being someone.
Put the two together, and you get – yet another koan. The goal is the object of the seeker, and the goal is the seeker of the object.
The goal is like the idea for the next Facebook buried in a filing cabinet in a company records room. Someone finds it, and tucks it back away, then goes and cashes out all her stock options, and buys out the company.
This single verse koan requires two essential things.
First, you have to recognize the treasure for what it really is before you can cash in your chips for it. Opportunities come to those who are aware enough to notice what others pass by.
Second, but no less important, you have to have the courage to cash in your chips. And it’s not fear of failure that holds most of us back. Exactly the opposite is the case: we’re more often paralyzed by fear of what will become of us if we succeed.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem (in the West Bank) while Herod was king, diplomats from somewhere in the “-stans” came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where are you hiding the new Israeli king? A rogue satellite signal suggests that he’s here, and we’ve come to establish diplomatic relations.”
When King Herod heard this, he was outraged, and not just Herod, but all Jerusalem. He gathered his top advisors and asked, “What’s this about a new king? And where is he?”
They told him, “Probably in Bethlehem. That’s where the truth-tellers are saying: ‘Bethlehem in the West Bank, you’re not as insignificant as you think! That’s where the leader of the uprising will come from.'”
So Herod called for the diplomats, and found out what their intelligence said. And then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and find this prodigy, and then let me know, too, so I can also establish relations with him.”
Hearing this, they set out, following their satellite signal until its coordinates lined up with where the child was. And when they saw they were in the right place, trembling with excitement, they went in and found the child, with his mother, Mary. They followed their protocol for meeting with a great leader, and then presented gifts: money, medicine, and medical supplies. And, being warned in a secret cable, not to return to Herod, they left for their own country in secret.
The situation in the West Bank today is every bit as charged as it was when Jesus was growing up there. Imagine what kind of international chaos would break out if diplomats from the Taliban approached Prime Minister Netanyahu wanting to know where to find the new Palestinian rebel leader – because they had “reliable intelligence” unavailable to Israel.
That’s this story. And whose to say the Israelis wouldn’t send in the crack troops to take out all the Palestinian kids in Bethlehem if they thought it was a matter of national security?
Never mind that historians of that day, Josephus and the rest, never mention these actual events taking place. The story Matthew tells sets the stage for us to understand the issues Jesus came to address, and to help us understand why the movement Jesus started was so different from the regimes in power.
And why it was so feared by them. And why they used such brutal and excessive force to put it down.
Understand this story, and you’ll understand everything from the police response to OWS, to the pictures coming out of Egypt, to the modern Chinese response to dissidents.
Find that child, and you’ll have found the key to a whole new world.
[Hint: Which child in your neighborhood is the one they don’t want to make it to adulthood? That’s the one you’re looking for.]
When the chosen one comes in glory, with heaven’s army, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be brought to him. And he will sort them out like a quality control inspector sorts out the “on spec” products from the defective ones, putting the on spec to the right and the defective to the left.
Then the boss will say to those on the right, “Come, all of you and be happy with the owner, for you have achieved the goal for which you were made. Because when I was hungry you fed me. When I was thirsty you slaked my thirst. When I was a foreigner you welcomed me. When I was naked you clothed me. When I was sick, you healed me. When I was a prisoner, you came with me.
Then the vindicated will ask, “When sir, did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and slaked your thirst? When did we welcome you as a foreigner, or clothed your nakedness? And when were you sick or in prison that we cared for you?”
And the boss will answer, “The truth is that when you did it to the weak and helpless, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those on the left, “You cussed things! Out to the incinerator with you, you messengers of evil. When I was hungry you let me starve. When I was thirsty you let me die of dehydration. I was a foreigner and you built a fence to keep me out, naked and you let me go cold, sick and in prison and you left me to rot.”
Then they also will ask, “When sir, did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a foreigner, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned and fail to do something for you?”
And he will answer, “The truth is that when you ignored the plight of the weak and helpless, you ignored me.” And they will burn in hell. But the vindicated will live forever.
When you get to Hogwarts school for wizardry you get sorted out. But this is not Hogwarts. For one thing, there aren’t four options. Either you pass inspection or you don’t. When you get to the end of that great assembly line in the sky and have put together as much of your life as you are going to collect before you go out the factory door you have to pass QC. And either you’ve exercised your humanity or you haven’t.
Notice what’s not on the list: “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savoir?” It’s just not there. Why? Because it doesn’t matter whether you say Jesus is your Lord and Savior. What matters is what you do. What matters is that you used your life to become fully human. That you engaged with the whole of the human condition. That you did what you were made to do.
There are a bunch of other things people often say are required to make the final cut that aren’t on Jesus’ list.
Are you heterosexual?
What’s your position on abortion?
Do you go to church regularly every Sunday (and on Wednesday evenings)?
Do you tithe?
Do you believe in God?
If you believe in God, did you believe the doctrine of the Trinity?
Can you please tell me the date of your “born-again birthday”?
Do you believe the Bible is 100% literally true?
Over the years I’ve had people ask me each of these as litmus test questions to determine whether or not I was in with God. But never once has Jesus seemed even the slightest bit concerned with any of the above.
Notice what else is not on the list: “Have you been perfectly good all the time?”
Because of course, nobody is. Perhaps this is why those why make the cut are so surprised. Perhaps they know they just how not perfect they are. Even so, it’s probably their awareness of their own imperfections and flaws that make them more able to show compassion to the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the sick, and the imprisoned.
Take heart then, if you’re not perfect. It’s only human – which, of course, is the whole point.