Not My Job
On my trip to visit family and back this past week, I like to listen to podcasts of old radio game shows. I especially enjoy the ones that review news and current events of the previous week. I sometimes find them educational and entertaining. So there is a segment in one program that I especially like that has nothing to do with current events, called “Not My Job.” In it, famous people are invited on the show, in the studio or over the phone. The preliminary pleasantries acquaint the listening audience with whatever the famous person is actually famous for. And then the game launches with the host announcing the topic which typically has nothing to do with the famous person’s field of expertise. The guest has to answer two out of three questions right, by choosing from three options provided multiple-choice. The guest is often completely clueless, and the answers provided completely ridiculous, which results in awkward confusion and predictable laughter, occasionally peppered with surprising spontaneous admissions of the guest’s actual knowledge concerning the topic at hand. For most drivers, lively conversation helps to keep focus. I listen to radio game shows since I mostly travel by myself or with my dog, who might have his opinions, but mostly keeps them to himself.
This past year, author Lemony Snicket, also known as Daniel Handler, author of “A series of Unfortunate Events“ and “All the Wrong Questions,” was asked about the people at the airport who handle our luggage. US gymnast Simone Biles, a 4 time gold medalist at the Rio Olympics, had to answer questions on the history of the iPhone, since the iPhone turned 10 in September. And composer Michael Giacchino who composed music for the soundtrack of Star Wars and Star Trek was invited to play a game called, “Just like composing, but it goes the other way.” (Decomposing.) Senator Bernie Sanders answered questions about KFC’s Colonel Sanders. Journalist Leslie Stahl was quizzed about Star Trek on the occasion of its turning 50. And actress and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth who is 4 feet 11 inches was asked about model and actress Brigitte Nielsen who is 6 feet 1. The idea is that the distinguished guest likely knows little or nothing about the topic at hand. So they would be forced to reveal their thought process and expose themselves as ordinary mortals like the rest of us.
But imagine some expert celebrity being questioned about things they actually did know. That would turn the show into something more serious, and possibly, not half as entertaining. The guest appearance would turn into an interview, and the question-and-answer part some kind of test. The conversation would elude the average listener, exacerbating the divide between the know-everythings and the know-nothings, which increases the production of digestive juices that result in stomach upset at best, or ulcers at worst. Now I am not one to go looking for trouble. It finds me often enough as it is. And thinking too hard isn’t something I enjoy when driving long distances. And unless there is real urgency, as when I’m going to an important meeting in Richmond or preparing a homily, I prefer to keep my mind alert and unfettered.
But the scripture readings we hear this weekend remind us of the ultimate test we all must face, the one at the end of our life’s journey and at the end of time, when we will come before God who is shepherd and judge, and give an account of our service in his kingdom. When that moment arrives, and there is no escaping it, we will not be able to feign ignorance, or declare we are not responsible for not knowing. In fact, the gospel reading especially is telling us exactly what’s on the test.
The things that wise and practical people of this world often focus on tend toward immediate and measurable consequences, things that matter primarily in this life, usually tangible realities, money, property, their reputation. And things of greater consequence that few people attend to, things that matter ultimately in the life to come are rather quite different, like what we spend our energies and resources on, and how we treat other people.
The kindly image of a shepherd we read in Ezekiel is of God who will restore the world to his original plan, and set aright the imbalance imposed by the powerful and the unjust looking only after themselves and their selfish interests. It is a theme that runs through many of the writings of other prophets, even in the gospel parables—of tax collectors and public sinners being welcomed to the eternal wedding feast; and the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise, where she exults God who “has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” The image of God as shepherd in scripture is of one who is mindful of our weakness, and compassionate beyond measure. Clearly, we look to God to take our side—we the powerless and the downtrodden. In contrast, the arrogant and the self-righteous will receive their just rewards, for neglecting and showing contempt toward the poor and the weak. Basically, we are more than confident karma will have the last word, with God’s blessing, of course.
And yet, we often neglect the other side of the equation, how we would defend ourselves when our own transgressions and failings are brought to light when we come before the judgment seat of God. Who of us will have nothing to fear? Jesus’ own description of his return in glory at the end of time gives us much to reflect on. While seated on his glorious throne, he will assemble the nations before him, and commence separating those he would welcome into eternal life from those to be sent to eternal punishment. So what would be the judgment pronounced on us? Would we pass this crucial test? Would we be able to use that gameshow response when we don’t know the right answer? “It’s not my job.” And yet, it is precisely our job to know. We who call ourselves Christian will be held accountable. We who espouse the very principles that the godless, the arrogant, and the self-righteous knock down will be held accountable. “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.” It’s all there in black and white. We call on Jesus our shepherd to extend us kindness and compassion. But he is also our just judge. And he has revealed to us in advance just what we will be held to account. And it is exactly our job as his disciples to know what he expects of us. So what’s your excuse?
 Luke 1: 52-53
 Matthew 25: 42-43