Today’s gospel is a very special affirmation of the meaning of God, and the true message of the Easter season. God is love. If God is love, how will he judge us? He tells us.
God was hungry, and we gave him food. God was thirsty and we gave him drink. God was a stranger and we welcomed him. God was naked and we gave him clothes. God was sick and we visited him. God was in prison and we came to him.
As God says those things, we are totally puzzled. We didn’t do any of those things for God. If we knew that it was God who needed those things, we certainly would have done them. No question!
But God does not want to leave us puzzled. He says, as you did these things to the least of these, my brethren, you did them to me. But what does that mean?
- I cook at a soup kitchen once a month.
- I make it a point to try to introduce myself to and talk to everyone at church or social or charity gatherings.
- I give all my old clothes to the Salvation Army and a homeless shelter.
- I volunteer at a hospital once a month delivering newspapers and books to patients.
- I donate money to a program which supplies tapes to mothers in prison to record stories for their kids to hear in their mom’s voice.
Have I supplied food, drink, a welcome, clothing or visitation of the sick or those in prison to the least of God’s brethren? Quite possibly not. Why not? Because we are doing all these good works through organizations or intermediaries, and not directly with the people who really are hungry or thirsty or in need.
You and I have a direct relationship with God. We can ask for forgiveness. We can thank God. We can talk with God. We don’t have to go through an intermediary. Could we really appreciate God’s love if we could only experience it through someone else?
If we could only love our children through intermediaries, we would be very unhappy both for our children and ourselves. Our children need, and we need, personal, individual love.
God is talking to us in this parable about real, personnel, individual love. We are not talking just about the sick and hungry. We are talking about all the people we meet every day. A really nice, warm smile and hello to the security guard at the door when you go to work or visit the bank. A hug for the store clerk you hardly know whose child is seriously ill. A candy bar, a cup of coffee or a single flower for someone – anyone – who is ignored. A telephone call to someone you have not called for a long while. A funny card to someone from your distant past. Stopping to ask someone crying at the store if there is anything wrong and if you can help. A visit to and gift of cookies to an elderly or sick person. A smile to the sad or angry looking person you pass on the street. Involvement in a program that directly involves you with individuals – tutoring, holding drug babies in the hospital, working with teen age moms or at risk teens.
Remember the little things that have made you feel good over the years? They were probably unexpected small personal touches just when you needed it. They probably came from unexpected sources. They made you feel surprisingly wonderful, and as if someone really cared about you. They made you feel so good you remembered that kindness for a long time afterwards. That is what you need to do for others.
If you make a habit of treating all the people around as if they were God – and they are – you will have listened well to this parable and gospel lesson.