"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. 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, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 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.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." .."
"Love thy neighbor, even if he plays the trombone." That's a lovely Yiddish proverb that reflects the essence, if not the sober tone, of this Sunday's gospel. Few of us have the makings of a Mother Teresa. We'll probably never be called on to drag the destitute and dying off the streets and into our homes. But chances are God will place lots of suffering people in our paths, either directly or tangentially. They may not prove to be grateful for our help. And more than likely, they'll be inconvenient and even annoying. But we ignore them at our peril.
Not only are the poor always with us, but so are the frail, the challenged, the depressed, the aged, the troubled, the addicted...they're in our towns and even in our families. They come in every stripe and degree of pathology. They are of every age, race and condition. But they have one single unifying characteristic. They, like each of us, are made in the image and likeness of God. Their immortal souls reflect their maker. They are God's beloved. Jesus died for each and every one. No matter their condition, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The gospel commands us to look past their blemishes to see the beatific vision of Jesus beaming back at us. That vision is a gift that only comes with much practice and prayerful patience. To perfect it we must learn to see through the eyes of Christ's love. In that light every one of us has the opportunity to stand among the saints, to be heroic, to empty ourselves and be filled with God's grace.
The operative concept of this gospel is posed in the question: Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and... thirsty? God's conclusion and our instructions are contained in the answer: as you did it to...the least of these...you did it to me. We cannot overstate the significance of this gospel. It is Christ's final public statement before giving himself up to the cross. There is no artful solicitation for donations or community service here. There is no reference to the business cycle. There is no allowance for our convenience or exception for personal priorities. Find Christ and love him in those in need.This is God's standing order to us in good times and bad.
What better time to put this lesson to work? From Thanksgiving to Christmas is the traditional season of giving. Our love-our time, talent and treasure -- are needed now more than ever, both in the parish and in the community. Jesus has told us where to look for him and how to find him. Let's not keep him waiting.