Monday, March 14, 2011

"When Lord, did we see you hungry?" (A brief reflection on the sheep and the goats' failure to recognize Christ)

The biggest difference and the biggest similarity between the righteous and the unrighteous standing before the King on the Day of Judgment is, paradoxically enough, the same: both failed to recognize that it was the King that stood before them, needing their aid. Read the gospel carefully, and you'll see that both sheep and goats ask pretty much the same question:

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison?"

But whereas the righteous aided despite their failure of recognition, the unrighteous failed to aid precisely because of their failure to recognize. Whereas the former would have aided, even if it had not been Christ, the latter would only have helped, if it had in fact been Christ.

What makes us acceptable to God on that day when we shall see him face to face, is not how strongly we fastened ourselves to Him in this life, but how strongly we fastened ourselves to those in whom he often dwells hidden from our eyes.

The poor are the incognitos of Christ; they veil his presence with their pained and suffering humanity. Each time we wipe their tears, bind their wounds, and make life a little better for them, it is Christ’s tears we wipe, his wounds we bind, and it is his life we continue in the here and now.

We must love the poor, as Mother Teresa says, not because they remind us of Jesus, but because they are Jesus. It is Lent, and we always have a tendency to want to do dramatic things this season. There’s nothing wrong about that. In fact it’s commendable. But let us not forget the advice concealed in today’s gospel—Jesus is in our midst, not figuratively, but literally.

Perhaps you notice a friend or a loved one who’s been awfully quiet, looking as if he or she were in difficulty. Maybe you observe a co-worker seemingly having a rough time, or struggling with something. Maybe you know a classmate who is struggling in class. Perhaps you notice someone’s overall demeanor has changed, from happy and joyful to sullen and sad. Say a kind word, make a gesture of friendship, take the risk of being vulnerable. Perhaps you wish to follow the counsel of today's gospel and in quiet anonymity, feed someone who's hungry, share some of your blessings, or seek out someone who could really use some help.

These too are ways of observing Lent, they’re also ways of finding Christ in his hiddenness. They won’t be dramatic; no one might even observe what you’re doing—but that’s precisely the point.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)