Jesus said to his disciples, ‘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.’
When did you last buy a copy of the Big Issue? Have you ever bought a copy of the Big Issue? Do you know what the Big Issue is?
When did you last contribute to the Food Bank? When did you last go to a shop with the express intention of buying supplies for the Food Bank? Do you really know what the Food Bank is?
When did you last make any sort of sacrificial contribution to help a stranger less fortunate than yourself?
In Stamford I regularly see a homeless lady offering the Big Issue for sale. I see her sitting on the ground, even in the pouring rain and bitter wind wishing people ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’ as she proffers her magazine to passers by. She is never aggressive or offensive. In fact, she is just quietly polite and hopeful. But, so often, I see those passers-by doing just that … passing by! In fact, many of them go to extraordinary lengths to pretend that that poor lady is not there.
Despite the generosity of many, I am often told that those who are so desperate that they have to ask the Food Bank for their next meal are nothing more than ne’er-do-wells and scroungers. I hear talk of their desperation and hunger being part of some deceitful charade that is being acted out to feed some sort of addiction.
I have sat through many Church Council meetings and listened to endless fatuous reasons why that group of ‘worthy Christians’ should not give food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty. Just as I have heard those same ‘committed Christians’ refuse to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, or visit those who are sick or in prison.
Thankfully there are many who do follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as we receive them in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel. Comparatively few of those people think of their actions as being truly Christian … but they are.
So often I hear those avoiding the Big Issue seller, those who refuse to give to the Food Bank, and those who sit on parsimonious ‘Christian’ committees speak of charity beginning at home. They are, of course, correct, but not in the way they think. They have turned this beautiful adage into a weapon of mean-spiritedness. Charity begins at home is not about hoarding riches for ourselves! Charity begins at home is about us giving from our home, our hoarded riches, to those in need.
Whatever excuses and justifications we may concoct to justify our lack of compassion, Jesus Christ makes it absolutely clear what path we should be treading through this life.
Jesus Christ makes it absolutely clear that every act of generosity and kindness to those less fortunate than ourselves should be at the very heart of our commitment to him. The hope of those in need lies in our capacity to love and serve, just as Christ loves and serves us.