“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.”
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord Jesus is quoted as saying: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
That part where he says, “I never knew you,” has always fascinated me, because our Lord is not saying that we didn’t know him, but that he didn’t know us. But how can that be? He MUST know us, no? But, then, when we come to today’s passage we get some understanding about what he meant. We often believe that what Jesus is telling us to do is feed the poor, and clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger, and so the more scrupulous among us start ticking boxes.
So: Contributed to an organization that feeds the hungry this week. Check “Fed the Hungry”. Donated clothes to St. Mary’s Church. Check “Clothed the naked”. Visited an aunt sick in the hospital. Check “Tended to the sick”. Couldn’t do anything about seeing some prisoners in jail because I don’t know how to do that. Unchecked “Visited the prisoners.” And we hope we were meritorious enough to count among the sheep and not the goats.
However, our Lord is not asking us to check boxes. He is saying that he is in every person that we meet, but we fail to recognize him. Whenever we turn our face away from the beggar who approaches us, or frown at the stranger who seeks assistance, or ignore the pitiful cry of the little child who calls out to us, we are actually rebuffing Jesus. Because these are all people made in his image and likeness, just as we are.
But caring for them should come NATURALLY to us! If it doesn’t, it is because there is still more of US than JESUS. We are still so full of ourselves caring only about our needs and our wants. Do you see? So, how do we change. Well, here’s a suggestion. The next time we come across somebody who is hungry or thirsty or naked, let us look into the persons eyes and try to see Jesus there. And when we do, which will happen over time, our hearts will automatically be moved to compassion.
And then, when we meet him, our Lord Jesus will say: Ahh, I know you. Enter into the kingdom of your father.