If society is judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, then surely our brothers and sisters in Washington have work to do. The latest movement of the House of Representatives aside, our elected officials at the local, state, and federal level should be encouraged to give some serious thought to how we care for those most in need – even if they have been sick or depressed, lonely or in crisis, in control of their faculties or struggling to remember – for some time. What some would call pre-existing conditions, others call a way of life.
So this morning, I turned, as I often do, to a book my parents gave me when I left home. Today’s reading was from Matthew 25. The sheep and the goats. How appropriate. For so many years, I thought about this as only a call to care for “the least of my brothers (and sisters).” Sure, it’s a call to help others. But maybe it’s more.
If you read the whole passage you begin to understand its context. Matthew is not just writing about the end time, when those who have helped others will go to heaven and those who ignored those in need will go to hell. It is, instead, a call to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Look at Matthew 12: the family of Jesus (his brothers and sisters) are those disciples gathered around him – men, women, children.
So to live like Jesus means to risk being homeless (“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” cf Mt 8 and Luke 9). To live like Jesus is to be like Jesus, with less concern for the material things of this world and more concern for the welfare of others (cf Mt 19). We have to risk being hungry. We have to risk being ostracized. We have to risk being poor (all this is in Matthew too).
It’s not just that the rich must help the poor or those with much must offer what they have to those who have not, it’s more than that. To live like Jesus means to risk being weak so that we might receive from those whom we are called to serve. It is easy to think of Jesus as the only teacher in the crowd, but every good teacher learns from the student.
If society is judged – if any of us are judged – by how we treat those who are most in need, perhaps the judgement begins when we decide what we are willing to risk in service to others.