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 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? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For 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.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
- Matthew 25:31-46
It’s Thanksgiving, the day we sit with our loved ones and remind ourselves how thankful we are for food, shelter, clothing, freedom, love. And while it is ever so tempting (especially on days like these) to focus inward, Jesus continually calls us outward, to think about those who do not have food, shelter, clothing, freedom, or love.
There have been times in my life when this Scripture passage has been convicting, haunting even… the times in my life when I am not feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the ill or visiting the imprisoned. And there have been other times when this passage has been comforting to me, when I am following Jesus’ call to serve the hungry, stranger, naked, ill and imprisoned… knowing that He calls me blessed, that He welcomes me and gives me an inheritance in His Kingdom.
In my opinion there are two major stumbling blocks in our way if we are going to follow Jesus’ call in this passage. The first is that we believe we don’t have time. And while I believe some of us really don’t, for most of us, it’s about priorities. In choosing to welcome refugees and serve their physical needs by feeding their hunger and clothing their children, I’ve certainly had to give up some free time, time with my spouse or friends, time exercising, time watching television, time resting. Most of us DO have the time. If we value something, we will make the time for it. And if God values serving the needy, then so should we.
The second roadblock keeping us from following Jesus’ command in this Sunday’s passage is that we are unsure how to serve. I see the homeless on the side of the street begging for money, but when I ask those who have given their lives to serve the homeless as directors of shelters or therapists, they have always told me that it is not best to give money directly to those on the street. It is better to give to a homeless shelter that will help provide support for these individuals who may suffer from mental illness or addiction. Other Christian friends choose to give without concern, following Jesus’ command in Luke 6 to “give to everyone who asks of you.” We are left confused and disheartened on the best way to move forward, leaving us feeling like we have no other option but to throw in the towel and retreat.
Friends, let’s be careful to fight through these two roadblocks in front of us. For most of us, we DO have time. We just need to make it. God values it and so should we. And while figuring out the best way to serve others without being an enabler or rewarding entitlement can be difficult, it is not a good enough reason to throw in the towel. It’s time to reach out to Catholic Charities, consider opening your home for a child or pregnant mom in need, call the Diocesan Restorative Justice Program for visiting the imprisoned, call Fr. Joe’s Villages to help volunteer, visit your local nursing home to build a relationship with a widow. My guess is that we can all find two hours in the coming month to help another human who lacks food, shelter, clothing, freedom or love.
Years ago this Sunday’s passage convicted me to get moving on serving Jesus in the least of these. I googled the nearest nursing home and ended up at an old, smelly building in a rough neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. I asked to be a volunteer for their next social event (yep, you guessed it: bingo!) and stayed a few minutes after to chat with the people surrounding me at the table. A woman’s face lit up as she heard that I was a music director in Ukranian Village. Her name was Mary and she grew up a few blocks from my church. I learned about all of her husbands, her estranged children, her abusive father, her loving mother, her regrets and her joys. I listened to her favorite singer (Connie Francis) and taught her about facebook. I like to think I visited every week, but it was more like every month… or probably even every few months. But when I walked in that door, her face would shine. Her chipped and missing yellow teeth would burst through her previously sad face and spread joy to the whole room. “MY DAUGHTER!” she would yell so that everyone knew her adopted daughter was here to visit her. It had been months, but she finally had a visitor. When I learned I was moving to San Diego, I drove up to her nursing home to share the news and to tell her “goodbye.” I went to her room and her room was empty. She died two days before and her estranged children had taken her body. As I got in my car, I didn’t know what else to do except sing her the Song of Farewell I had sung for so many others during their Funeral Masses. “May the angels lead you into paradise. May the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new Jerusalem.” As I sang driving home, I started to cry. I thanked God that he challenged me to go show love to a lonely widow. As she made room in her heart for me, I made room in my heart for her.
What a gift that God invites us to share in the journey of life with others. As you sit on the sofa and watch some football this weekend, I invite you to take out your computer and do a quick google search during half-time. You never know who or what you might find.