“Jesus said to his disciples: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him . And he will separate them one from another , as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left . Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father . Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food , I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you , or thirsty and give you drink….?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:25-40; Full reading Matthew 25-46)
Our daily lectionary readings this week have all been very much focused on the idea of judgment: that Christ “will come again to judge the quick and the dead.” We would do well to engage with these readings, not as an opportunity to evaluate and point fingers at others, but rather to look at ourselves and contemplate how we might fare. Our Gospel reading from Matthew 25 is quite clear: Christ expects us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger. If we do we shall hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But if not? Christ tells us that if we do not see him in our fellow man, especially the least of our fellow man, the person whom we are most likely to ignore, and we do not care for him, then we in turn neglect Christ himself. In essence by living by the rules of love that Christ set down for us, the commandments that tell us to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we demonstrate our love for God by loving and serving our neighbor, especially our neighbor most in need.
Divine worship then, recognition of Christ’s kingship and dominion over us, is not only carried out through our devotion in prayer, but by the acts of charity that come from our submission to him. It means answering that call to give to someone whom we may fear, or resent or even mistrust. Worship is choosing the sacrificial way that declares not only to yourself, but to your neighbor, that despite what the television may tell us, God is not dead, and he loves us all.
Nothing should keep us from sharing that love. In our passage the excuse is ,”We didn’t see you”. For others it might be, “I didn’t have time.” Still others may say, “I needed it myself.” For me the reason often is, “I was afraid.”
I have found that when I do not give myself in service to others, I do not truly get involved,it is often because I fear the responsibility of helping them along toward salvation. I am crippled by the fear of my own inadequacy and the potential for error. But that must not be! In World War II, a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very much embroiled in the struggle to save the church from the manipulation and destruction of Hitler’s Third Reich. When he beseeched the archbishop of Canterbury to aid him in the struggle against the Nazi regime, he said that
“A decision must be made at some point, and it’s no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficult without further trouble…To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.” (Bonhoeffer, 218-219). I can’t let my own fear of inadequacy hold me back, I must help.
Whatever your reason or mine, they must be put aside, for Christ is hungry, thirsty, naked, and alone and we must act.
As we conclude the year, there is no need to wait until we begin a new list of New Year’s Resolutions to commit to charity and compassion. Charity is not simply participating and “giving back” through some organization or formal event every month. “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).
Now is the time to begin.
Look to the life of Jesus for your example. Ask yourself in reading the scriptures if Christ was a man who only gave his “free time” to stop and show love to those who everyone else had neglected. The bleeding woman, Lazarus, the blind man by the pool, they were not sidelines or “filler” for Christ’s ministry. They, like you and I, were the substance of his ministry. His care was a sacrifice and a blessing to all who came his way. So, too, may our service of others not be a sideline but the very substance of our life and ministry.
Logan Amster is the Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.