By Howard Gregory
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 who 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 brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who 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 reading for today contains one of the most profound portrayals of human need and differing human responses. A fundamental focus of the gospel is challenging us to demonstrate sensitivity in the face of need wherever we encounter it. Jesus comes to us in the faces, the outstretched hand, the pain, and the vulnerability of those who live on the borders, without much power to change their situation: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner.
The disciples of Jesus are preoccupied with their admiration of the beautiful and elaborate nature of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus responds with our passage today. This may be seen as a serious challenge to the faithful in every age who can become preoccupied with preserving beautiful structures while at the same time neglecting human need.
This reading is also in some way an answer to the question, what does a Jesus-shaped life look like? We see him doing first what he asks of us: in the feeding of the hungry multitudes; in his invitation to the thirsty, “let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37); in the story of the Good Samaritan; in his healing of the demon-possessed who went about naked; and in his promise of paradise to the prisoner who was being crucified with him.
One of the leading biblical interpreters of the last century, J. B. Phillips, suggests that from this passage we must see that as Christians we must help in simple things and not wait until we are in a position to make big donations or leave some big mark on history. Rather, what is required is the simplest act of giving a meal or a drink, or bringing cheer to the sick. He suggests further that we must become so sensitized that this kind of response comes naturally.
Perhaps there is in all of this much for reflection and second thought each time we endorse the mission budget of our congregations and each time we are confronted by that outstretched hand or vulnerable or marginalized neighbor.
The Most Rev. Howard K. Gregory is Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Archbishop of the West Indies.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Marathwada – The (united) Church of North India
The Diocese of the Rio Grande