Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28; Matthew 25:31-46
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? This is the response of those rejected by the Son of Man. You see, they are do-gooders, they are not criminals. What went wrong?
Part of the problem may be precisely that they are do-gooders, acting to chalk up points. By contrast the people being welcomed into the Kingdom didn’t even realize they were doing anything for the Son of Man. They responded in a generous human way because it’s the best way to honor a person in need. There’s no calculation on their part.
The point isn’t to become an easy touch. It helps no one if I let myself be conned. But I can refuse a conman in a respectful way. He may not like it, but I can respect his humanity and dignity.
If I happen to do good, I cannot afford to presume that I am good.
And here I’d like to build on what Fr. Joseph was saying about humility a couple of weeks ago. To really be good, I can’t calculate the effect my action will have on an audience. I can only do good because I keep the Son of Man in sight.
A repellant person may genuinely need me; then I am seeing Jesus crowned with thorns and disfigured by his scourging, the unattractive Servant of the Lord described by Isaiah. In an unpretentious individual, transparent and guileless, I am seeing Jesus on Mount Tabor, luminous with God’s light. In someone ordinary and friendly, I am seeing Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee. Someone may reach out to help me–needing me to accept that care, to relinquish a bit of my self-determination; then I am seeing Jesus as he healed the infirm and fed the hungry. Unrecognizable, asking unexpected questions, I am seeing Jesus at the empty tomb, as Mary Magdalene saw him after the resurrection, mistaking him for the gardener.
In all of these situations, I have to get out of myself, forsake my finely buffed persona and become one person responding to another.
Perhaps that’s why we read this Gospel on the Feast of Christ the King. To be a king is not to play a role, subject to an image but, sovereignly free, to be good, to serve the people.