Ezechiel 34:11-16 / Matthew 25:31-46
Faced as we are with an economy still wavering since the global economic crisis of the end of the last decade, we are surrounded by shrill voices with diametrically opposed views on the best way to respond to the human plight caused by poverty and unemployment. Among these voices, many on each side of the gulf insist that their vision of a way out is sustained, even mandated, by the Scriptures themselves. For some, the vision of Ezechiel is clear. It is God and he alone who will shepherd his sheep, who will bring them out from among the peoples, to feed them on the mountains and beside the rivers. The Lord God, and none other, will feed them on green grass, will cause them to lie down and seek what is lost, will bind what it broken and strengthen what is weak. It is the pretense of earthly power to have jurisdiction over all aspects of life, the overreaching claim to be competent in every sphere, that God will punish: that which was fat and strong I will preserve; and I will feed them in judgment, saith the Lord almighty.
Some insist that the heart of the Gospel is the feeding of the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger and covering the naked, visiting the ill and imprisoned, and that the State is better equipped for this than any other body. After all, they note, the sheep on the right of the Son of man in his glory did not know in the parable that they did the good they did for his sake, and it is not as individuals that they were gathered before him, but as nations, and they are interrogated not in the singular, but in the plural. In short, the Gospel demands not that all see the connection between the Good News and collective action on behalf of the poor and abandoned, but we all will be judged for how we in our common effort, as nations and not merely as persons, responded to those in need.
Perhaps the former have it right, and perhaps the latter. For those of us who are empowered to choose our leaders, we of course cannot leave the question unanswered. We must petition our government to put into place those policies most in keeping with goodness and righteousness. All the same, in the midst of the rancor, might we take a moment's breath and ask ourselves when the last time was that we, each one of us, did as the Son of man will ask of us on the Last Day? That is, before we point fingers either at those we worry will submit all to the fat and strong hands of an overweening State or at those we accuse of selectively reading the Gospels for their own benefit at the expense of the poor, are we willing to face the poor themselves, to dig into our pockets or our closets, to take time out of our schedule to see to the needs not of the hungry and thirst, the naked and stranger, the ill or imprisoned in general, vague ways, but this hungry child abused by her father, that thirsty woman addicted to drugs, this ill-clothed man who has lost his family and his job, that undocumented boy who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery for the sex trade, this girl who contracted HIV in her mother's womb, or that teenager imprisoned for what his local gang would tell him was his best hope for a future?