By Michael Fitzpatrick
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
37 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And 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.’
41 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.’ 44Then 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?’ 45Then 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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
While I was working as a lay teacher, a slightly older lady attended almost every parish gathering, but rarely spoke. One day, during a Q&A on Holy Communion, God impressed on me that I should call on her. At first she was surprised, but — a bit embarrassed — she shared that she treasured the common cup at Holy Communion because touching her lips where everyone else had done felt like a “kiss” from “all my sisters and brothers in the Lord.”
Her visceral comment about the Lord’s cup was so incredible, I asked her why she didn’t speak up more often. Her reply: “My voice is the least important in this church. I’ve never felt it was wanted.”
Jesus proclaims that the measure of our fidelity to following him will be, in part, how we treat the least among us. The acts of kindness Jesus names are not just a to-do list. They are the gold standard of a radical vision behind the parables in Matthew’s gospel. Wherever there are levels of “superiority” and “inferiority,” we are to turn these categories on their heads. If I am considered at a “higher” level by others, I am to be the constant servant of those who are at the “lower” levels. This dear woman had never before had a “prominent” person in the church place themselves at her feet to hear what she had to say.
I have yet to find a church that doesn’t have more prominent and less prominent voices. May we be more the church week by week by looking for those in the congregation who are “less important,” and putting ourselves in a position to put forward their needs, their growth, their dignity. As servants to them, we serve Christ in our midst.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in Philosophy at Stanford University and a student leader for the Episcopal-Lutheran Campus Ministry at Stanford. Michael attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, CA.
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