Ezechiel 34:11-16 / Matthew 25:31-46
We have all surely faced the dilemma. Someone stops us as we are walking along the street. We saw her, shabby and unkempt, and had silently hoped that perhaps this time we might walk by unnoticed, unmolested. But, there she is, right before us. She tells us an unbelievable story. That is, quite strictly, we cannot believe it. We cannot even make our minds settle on the fact that it might be so. She has asked us for money, and she has lied. Of this we are certain.
Now the mind starts to spin. On the one hand, we see her need. Whatever the falsehood of her story, however the details have been spun, and spun they have been, to ensnare our attention and our hearts, we know that she may well pass the day without enough to eat and quite possibly without shelter. We may even suspect that, in search of these, she will be willing to offer far more of herself than a tall tale. The need is there. We cannot alleviate it entirely, but we are not altogether deprived of means to help her, here and now.
Then our mind spins the other way. We know full well that our paltry assistance will not be the good this woman really and truly needs. To sustain her for another day in this fashion may well be to keep her trapped in a cycle of misery. We know of social agencies, services of the Church and the state which can supply aid, and better aid than we can. These are people who know what they are doing, who know how to help. These people would know how to parse out where her need is true and demands attention and where her need is fictive and requires a firm refusal. They would not be troubled, as we are, by the nagging thought that the money given would go not to feed the stomach and water a thirsty tongue, but perhaps to drink of a more potent but less helpful sort, or inhaled in smoke, or shot directly in the arm. They know these things as we do not.
Yet, what is chilling about the parable of the sheep and the goats in the Gospel is that neither the sheep invited to take possession of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world nor the goats consigned to the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels actually seemed to know what they were doing. The blessed of the Son of Man, those who had supplied him the works of mercy in his body, in the lest of his brethren, had no idea that they were serving the King of Kings. Neither, it seems, did the goats quite know they had rejected him. Had they known, they protest, it was the Son of Man, surely they would have shown him mercy. How were they to see in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or imprisoned the Lord of glory if no one had told him he was there?
Jesus recalls us today that we do not need any specialized expertise to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters. We do not need to be social workers, psychologists, economists, and addiction counselors all wrapped up in one package to do the works of Christ. To serve the Son of Man, to love him truly, means at least to love those whom he loves. It means to be moved deeply by those who are lost, the broken and the weak. It means also to delight in those who prosper. More than that, to love the Son of Man is to love those he loves precisely as he would, seeking the lost, binding the broken, strengthening the weak, and preserving the fat and strong. This we know how to do. This requires not advanced studies in the social sciences nor complicated calculations of monetary value. It requires only the eyes of love.