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Lord, When Did We See You Hungry or Thirsty or a Stranger or Naked or Ill or in Prison?
By Deacon Keith Fournier
February 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The face of Jesus is found in the face of the poor, for those with eyes to see. The word of Jesus is spoken through the poor, for those who cultivate the ears to hear Him. The cry of Jesus is heard in the cry of the poor, at least for those who stop to listen. That is the deeper meaning behind this sobering scene recounting the last judgment recorded by the Evangelist Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his Gospel.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - I was drawn to my knees by the words of Jesus contained in the Gospel (Matt. 25: 31-46): "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."
How well I understand the question posed by his stunned disciples, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs." (Matthew 25.35-36) It was an extraordinary statement! However, as I have aged I have come to see the many faces of poverty and I am learning to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in them all.
Have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always? That is because they are connected. Indeed, in a sense, they are one and the same - in a way that is revealed with the eyes of living faith. "The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me" (Jesus, Matthew 26:11) "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Jesus, Matthew 28:20)
The face of Jesus is found in the face of the poor, for those with eyes to see. The word of Jesus is spoken through the poor, for those who cultivate the ears to hear Him. The cry of Jesus is heard in the cry of the poor, at least for those who stop to listen. That is the deeper meaning behind this sobering scene recounting the last judgment recorded by the Evangelist Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his Gospel:
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who 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 drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
This scene follows what is called the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 1- 28) where another sort of judgment is recorded. This one is a judgment concerning the contrasting way of life lived between two groups of people, those who believe that what they have is their own and those who understand that all that they have has been given - as a gift.
These two groups approach their relationship with the goods of this earth (which are all good because the Lord has made them) quite differently. The ones who were praised by the Master know the relationship they have with the Giver. They also know their obligations to bear fruit by living the call to love in deed and truth, the call to solidarity and stewardship, inherent in receiving those gifts.
These folks live their lives in gratitude. They look for ways to participate in the ongoing mission of the Lord. They know that He works now, through them. They understand what they truly have and they invest it by giving it away to others. Sadly, those who grasp on to the goods of the earth, thinking that they are their own and bury them, experience the barrenness of self centeredness and the hollowness of the empty pursuit of 'stuff'.
The point of this passage is as profound, in some respects, as the judgment scene. It participates in the same mystery. They both address matters of the heart and reveal what can be called the economy of heavenly scale. ""To anyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29)
Those who love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are given as a gift and instruction manual for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. They love in deed and truth. Dorothy Day, a heroic witness and prophetic voice of the 20th century, grasped this mystery so well. That is why she is moving forward in the cause for canonization.
She lived in the aftermath of the industrial age where human persons were too often as products to be used. Though some get stuck in her circuitous and intriguing journey into the fullness of the truth as found in the Catholic Church, her heroic witness is being considered by a Church which is built upon men and women who were profoundly converted through their encounter with Jesus Christ.
She gave herself away, living with the poor, because she truly understood and embraced her own poverty with brutal honesty. She learned to love in deed and truth. So too did her brother in that work of authentic solidarity, Peter Maurin. He once wrote with utter simplicity and searing honesty: "We cannot imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to get all we can. We can only imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to give all we can".
Another great Christian woman of the same age, Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the ecclesial movement Focolare, expressed the heart of this call to love in deed and truth:"Yes, love makes us be. We exist because we love. If we don't love, and every time we don't love, we are not, we do not exist ("Even what he has will be taken away"). There's nothing left to do but to love, without holding back. Only in this way will God give himself to us and with him will come the fullness of his gifts.
"Let us give concretely to those around us, knowing that by giving to them we are giving to God. Let's give always; let's give a smile, let's offer understanding, and forgiveness. Let's listen, let's share our knowledge, our availability; let's give our time, our talents, our ideas, our work; let's give our experience, our skills; let's share our goods with others so that we don't accumulate things and everything circulates."
"Our giving opens the hands of God and He, in his providence, fills us with such an abundance that we can give again, and give more, and then receive again, and in this way we can meet the immense needs of many."
The beloved disciple John wrote as an old man in his letters to the early churches dispersed because of persecution: "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him."
"The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." (I John 3: 14-18)
I knew a woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia named Brenda McCormick. She touched my life and challenged me to the core concerning this truth. She was not an easy person to be around. Prophets rarely are. She went home to the Lord years ago. She once wrote these words to me:
"In the end, there are two kinds of poor people: those who already know they are poor and those who don't know yet. Here is the crisis: If the latter don't discover this before they leave this planet, they are doomed to be poor forever. What can those of us who already know we are poor do for those who don't know yet? Love them."
As we enter into Lent I am reflecting again on what it means to love in deed and in truth; and how it can open the Hands of God. It was said of the early disciples that they "turned the world upside down" with their preaching (Acts 17). Well, they still can; if we learn how to love as he loved. We are invited to learn to love with His Love.
Like the Master whom we follow, we are invited to become the least of these. The late Fr. Henri Nouwen once warned of what he called the "lure of upward mobility" and referred to it as the greatest sin of the age. He spoke of God's extraordinary love, revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as an alternative, a "downward mobility."
How extraordinary is this love of God. How hard it is to comprehend its invitation. The God of the entire universe came among us as a man. He emptied Himself and took upon Himself our humanity. In His sacred humanity he lived a full and complete human life, walking in intimate communion with His Father. He now makes it possible for us to do the same.
Because He was fully God, Jesus accomplished for us what we could never have accomplished for ourselves, he redeemed us, set us free from the punishment merited by our sin, bridged the separation caused by sin, and capacitated us to live our lives differently by grace. He defeated the last enemy, death and overcame the evil one. He did all of this because He is Love Incarnate and He can do nothing else but love in word and in deed.
He now invites us to walk in His way, the way of "kenosis". This is a Greek word which cannot really be translated in English. It is a self-emptying love. Jesus invites us to become the least of these. St Paul writes of Jesus "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself" (Philippians 2) This emptying the Apostle refers to is "kenosis" in Greek.
Pope St Leo the Great once wrote of Jesus: "He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he, who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself."
God became the least of these. Will we? Will we allow the truth revealed in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ to become our pattern for daily living? Will we cooperate with the grace of conversion and be emptied of ourselves for others? We are invited to experience this mystery of faith and to make it real during this Lent.
When we empty ourselves, He comes and takes up His residence within us. Then, we can become His arms, embracing the world; His legs, still walking its dusty streets; and His Heart, still beating with the Divine Compassion manifested in Jesus Christ, the One who became the least of these in order to bring all of us into the full communion of Love.
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