Overcoming the Goat Curse

I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. Radically so. Even to the point of sometimes switching allegiances because “my team” was playing against the underdog team. Whether it’s because they’re the underdogs, or simply a best-loved team, or some other reason, the Cubs seemed to become America’s sweetheart team in last fall’s World Series.

Billy Scape Goat by Dagny MolBefore the World Series of 2016, I hadn’t heard about the “Curse of the Goat” that has supposedly plagued the Cubs since 1945. This superstition just makes me cheer even louder for the Cubbies. “Wouldn’t it be great to see that curse squashed?” I thought. And it was great.

The goat-curse reminded me of other goats – goats that none of us want to be associated with. Goats that Jesus taught about in Matthew. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left….Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” (Mt 25:31-46)

I remember growing up, well aware of this parable, not wanting to ever be in the goat-camp. But more importantly than just avoiding a goat-like faith, I longed – and still long – to be part of those sheep on the right – the sheep who feed the hungry, who give drink to the thirsty, who invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and look after the imprisoned.

Jesus’ challenge to live a sheepy life, as compared to a goaty life, sounds great. It makes good facebook posts, catchy bumper stickers, and pious prayers. But we aren’t called to simply talk about these things. We are called to do them – to live that way – to embody these values. For these are the very values of God Himself. He is for the marginalized, the hurting, the broken, the cast-offs.

God’s core values of justice and righteousness aren’t just visible in the New Testament either. They are found throughout Scripture, including in this week’s passage from Amos 5:12-24. God challenges his people who are living like goats. “For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”

You see, we who follow and worship God are to exhibit God’s values. In fact, God wants nothing to do with our worship, with our offerings, with our prayers, or with our praise, if our lives do not reflect these values. (Amos 5:12-23) In Amos, as in Matthew, God warns that the Day of the Lord will be calamitous and disastrous for those who do not exhibit God’s love and justice for the marginalized.

Unloading Second Refugee Bus B by Gustavo Montes de OcaBut who are these people? This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where Jesus’ teaching becomes difficult. These people are the 65 million refugees – yes, 65 million – that’s 1 out of every 113 people in the world. While Jesus challenges us to love, feed, clothe, welcome and visit these people, fear and political rhetoric have replaced love. Protectionism and greed have replaced God’s values.

These people are also the generationally poor, the addicted, the abused, the widows, the single parents. They are the teenage mothers who didn’t abort their children but who now can’t afford to feed and clothe him without government assistance. They are also the drug dealers, the abusers, and the terrorists. They are the ones who vote completely opposite from us. They are the ones who stand up for victims by protesting, marching and even kneeling.

And every time we’re tempted to say, “Well, surely Jesus couldn’t have meant them” or “They don’t deserve it,” Jesus reminds us that while we – you and I – were still sinners – undeserving, abhorrent, evil, wayward sinners – He loved us and died for us. And he calls us to do the same. And, he also reminds us that whenever we feed, clothe, welcome, invite and visit “these people” – or alternatively whenever we hate, judge, condemn, kill, and terrorize “these people” – we are actually doing it to Him.

So as we cheered on the Cubs to overcome the Goat Curse, let us also be reminded of our own Goat Curse. Let us throw off political rhetoric, hyped-up fear, pent-up hatred, and ungodly exclusion and together let us be a people who “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)