By Elizabeth Baumann
A 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. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 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; 35 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, 36 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.’ 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? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 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.’ 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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’ 44 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?’ 45 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The question coming away from today’s gospel is immediate, pressing, and clear: who is the least of these? The answer, unfortunately is not so clear. It’s obvious that our human limitations prevent us from ministering to everyone to hedge our bets; but it also seems clear that’s not what Jesus is getting at. He wants us to serve him in those we serve, not just to serve anyone we can. The only clear answer is that we should pray about it, and see where he leads us.
But as we go to pray about that, I’d like to suggest that many of us have a blind spot. It’s easy to think of the “least of these” as children in the developing world, or prisoners in China, or some mass group of people among us: the unborn, the elderly, those on “the other side of the tracks.” We can often unthinkingly overlook the people right in front of us, including our own families. If we don’t look at them and see Christ whom we can serve, do we seriously think we’ll succeed at serving him in those farther away?
Lately, I’ve found myself fascinated with the daily life of Mother Teresa. Her ability to perceive Jesus in those she ministered to seems so clearly connected to her beginning her days in prayer and adoration — a whole hour at a time. But some of us have kids who keep getting up earlier. Few of us have the time, or a chapel at hand, much less a community to carry on the work while we pray. Yet Mother Teresa told us: “Go home, and love your family” — let them be the first recipients of your practice of seeing Christ in others, even if it has to wobble out on the strength of a five-second prayer muttered as you get out of bed. It’s not as if Jesus doesn’t promise that his grace is sufficient.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Scottish Episcopal Church
The Diocese of Olympia