Matthew 25:31-46 (RSVCE)
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, 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, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
“Truly, I saw to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it not to me.” We are all familiar with the words of today’s Gospel reading, but more and more it seems like we don’t take it seriously. We live in a culture that celebrates individual achievement, success earned through one’s own hard work and ambition. This is the American ideal! Anyone can be rich and fruitful if only they work hard enough! These are the values which are instilled in us, and the words of Jesus challenge us to rethink them.
Do we, both as a society and as individuals, actually care about feeding the hungry? Do we actually care about clothing the naked, healing the sick, and welcoming strangers? I think we can all agree that the answer, sadly, is a resounding “No!” This isn’t even a matter of those who live in poverty-stricken countries. We have millions right here who are without food, without a home, and who have no family or community to lean on. What are we doing for them? Some of us maybe give a dollar at the grocery store checkout line, or maybe we drop our loose change into the Salvation Army buckets. Some of you maybe even donate your time and work with charitable organizations and causes. And that’s great! But could we do more?
This is something that truly bothers me. We live in the richest country the world has ever known, and yet we still aren’t able to provide for even our own people. The capacity is there. We have no shortage of money, no shortage of time. Almost all of us could stand to lose a few dollars to someone who really needs it. All of us could give some of our time to a local soup kitchen. And certainly all of us could welcome strangers with open arms into our homes and communities. But we don’t. Why? The answer to me seems simple. We don’t take the words of Christ seriously. We don’t take “love your neighbor” seriously.
I am no exception here, let me make that clear, and I think that’s why this bothers me so much. I could be giving far more time, money, and love to those in need. I could be living the Gospel as Christ commanded, and yet I don’t. I am selfish. We are all selfish, and maybe that’s not so much a “cultural problem” as it is a “human problem.” We get so caught up in our own lives, in our own wants and desires, that we forget about our neighbors. The words of Christ in today’s reading prompt serious internal reflection, both as individuals and as a society. When the Son of Man comes in glory, will He see us and say “Come, O blessed of my Father”? Or is it more likely that He will say “Depart from me, you cursed”?
The more I think about the way I live my own life, the more I worry it is the latter.