Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Matt. 25: 34-46.
By now, we Christians should be accustomed to the notion of an invisible reality. We believe in an unseen God at work in the world, that simple bread and wine are transformed every week into the body and blood of Jesus, and that the Church operates as the mystical body of Christ today. So, the reading from today’s Lectionary shouldn’t surprise us: Christ tells us that somehow our works of charity reveal and reflect His presence in the world.
Charity doesn’t mean simply rich people writing checks to poor people, and it’s quite different from what we think of as philanthropy. It’s Latin root is caritas, meaning loving-kindness. In Greek the word is agape, and in Hebrew, the word is chesed. The ancient Christian virtue of charity both glorifies and reflect’s God’s love. In no small measure, charity is less about what we do and more about who we are.
Let’s return to the notion of this invisible reality about which Jesus is teaching us. He tells us that our charity (our ability to love our ability to see his love and be his love) to those on the margins of society actually reveals our love for Him. This is the tricky part: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus tells us that through the mystery of the incarnation, every one of us can still encounter the Living Christ. Our compassion for the hungry, the stranger, the sick and the prisoners will allow us to find Jesus. If we take Scripture seriously, we are all compelled to accept this mystical reality.
This entire discussion takes place within the context of Jesus telling us that our ability to love without flinching provides the standard by which the sheep and the goats will be separated. Our salvation depends on our charity. Jesus offers all this as an explanation of what the Kingdom is like.
I don’t think Jesus is simply talking about heaven, or about some distant time when we’ll find out what it’s like to see the face of God. Remember, Jesus also told us, “the kingdom of God is among you now.” Luke 17:21.
I know: the world today doesn’t look much like the Kingdom. That sick lady in the hospital, that homeless smelly old man, and that tattooed gang member in the County Jail: they just don’t seem to have much in common with the Son of God. But I believe in the invisible reality that Jesus told us we couldn’t yet see. And I believe that our charity will form our souls and will reveal the kingdom among us.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis
The least of the the Kingdom is exactly where Jesus is seen greatest.
De veras, mi hermana!
Thought provoking piece. I don’t mean this as a rebuttal, for how can you rebut the scripture, but I do have these ideas, right or wrong. As you know, brother, I pay my taxes and in fact pay a lot of taxes. My government, inept as it is, has a social safety net in this country such that the poor have the opportunity to live at what would be easily be a middle class status in most places around the world. The statistics are pretty much undeniable that the poor in our country have the highest rates of obesity on the planet. And, my government, corrupt as it might be, sends chunks of money all around the world whenever there is a diaster. None of this existed in the first century when Christ spoke these words. Is paying my taxes with love in my heart fullfilling the scripture?
I also give to charities, many of which are directed to the sick. I kind of think they are more efficient at treating the ill than I could do on a one and one basis. Economist would call it economies of scale. I admit to being less charitable about people in prison. From our days representing the accused, I found the jail and the people in it pretty scary. I admit fault for that one.
So, I guess my comment is that I agree with everything in the scripture but wonder if showing love for the least of these in the 20th century is a little different than in the 1st century. I have this debate with myself everytime I come to an intersection with a person who is begging. Logic and expierence tells me that 99% of these people are really begging for beer and drugs and are not really interested in working for food. Still, I hurt for the 1%.
I share your concerns about our government’s “efforts.” While many of us want to create a more just society, our nation often is a very poor steward of our resources. Then again, we render unto Ceasar, in part because we hope for the day when this world looks more like the Kingdom, and in part because we don’t want to go to the hoosegow.
I agree that many charities devoted to the sick and the poor are far better stewards of our resources. My priest preached a very interesting sermon this Sunday about a woman who has devoted her life to caring for handicapped children in Haiti. When asked whether she thought it made any lasting difference, she said that she tried not to think about that. She tried, however, to do what she could on every occasion she could. It’s a challenging spiritual discipline, but I think the discipline Christ calls us into in this passage.
Thanks for your thoughts, compa
“our salvation depends on our charity.” Your namesake, the Apostle, might agree with you, as would the good Pelagius. Augustine and his Protestant followers, Luther and Calvin, probably not.
If I were called upon to choose, I think I’d rather line up with Pelagius, that good apostle and his Rabbi than Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Then again, I think we may all be surprised by who gets into heaven. Let’s hope it’s a deeply pleasant surprise.