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One of the core texts of the Christian Scriptures is the Last Judgment scene in Matthew 25: 31-40 which speaks of our mandate to care for those who are hungry, thirsting, sick, imprisoned, and strangers in need. We can literally interpret the Scripture from a very narrow focus, but I believe the passage calls us to a greater participation in both direct outreaches to address the immediate needs of the poor and in helping address the systemic issues that creates these situations. I offer this adaptation for your personal and group reflection.
From passage 31: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. Passage 32: All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. From passage 33: He will put (the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.)
Interpretation of passage 34: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
Passage 35 interpretation: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…then you saw and responded to my deeper hunger for justice, my hunger for a good education, my hunger for the dignity found in a meaningful job…and we worked together with other people of goodwill to make every school a quality school, make every home a place of holiness and peace and love and make our neighborhoods places where everyone looks out for and mentors our children, our youth and our young parents.
For I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, then you saw and responded to the deeper thirst within me, thirst for quality education for my child, thirst for simple recognition, respect, and support in my role as a parent, spouse, partner, friend, breadwinner, and educator of my children…and then together we engaged others to work that others might join us in a movement to support, strengthen and create peaceable homes, peaceable communities, and peaceable schools where teachers can teach and children can learn in an environment where peaceable resolution of conflict is taught, learned and lived.
For I was a stranger and you invited me in… then you saw my deep desire to become part of a supportive faith community, my desire to find a church home that would welcome me, support me in my times of struggle, and welcome the God-given gifts that I have to offer to help them honor their mission as people of faith… and then together we engaged others in crossing the artificial boundaries imposed by racism, sexism, clericalism, militarism, arrogant nationalism, political ideology, or social class to risk encounters that diminish the sense of what is “strange’’ within each other in order to reveal the beautiful diversity of the image and likeness of God present within each of us.
For I needed clothes and you clothed me… then you saw the nakedness I experience from being a school dropout; a person disempowered by a system that provides hand-outs rather than real hand-ups; a spouse or son unable to support his family other than by selling drugs; drug or alcohol or gambling or sex addicted; a victim of gun violence, a battered wife or husband, a physically or verbally abused child, a pregnant teen, unable to experience the security of a safe and welcoming home, a good job, basic dignity, and respect…and we worked together to draw others in to build communities of support for all who are seeking a life of safety, security, respect, and dignity.
For I was sick and you looked after me… then you saw that my physical sickness was related to the physical conditions I live in, the harsh street and work environment that I have to face every day; you saw that my sickness was related to my inability to properly provide for my children, related to the judgments I face each day as a person of color and internalize in spirit-sapping ways… and we worked together to seek out others suffering the same sickness and other people of goodwill to help build a movement to provide job-training and jobs with dignity in pay, benefits and work environment, to create a healthier physical, emotional and spiritual environment in our communities, an environment that treats with respect and dignity the body, the mind and the spirit of each and every resident, a community where ‘neighbor’ is not just a location, but it is a supportive relationship.
For I was in prison and you came to visit me…and in the encounter, you saw that I was imprisoned by more than bars, that my incarceration was one of spirit, that even upon my release from juvenile detention or jail or prison, that I still faced the invisible – and sometimes visible – bars of others within my own home community looking at me with disdain, and those beyond the community, especially employers and a stereotyping media and political system, closing their minds and hearts to allow the possibility of restoration, the opportunity to start a new path; and, in doing so, together we engaged others in building systems and structures to help others do the same, to overturn a criminal justice system that is criminally unjust in its bias toward people and communities of color, and a system and society that continues to strip those men and women who have served their time of everything, including their dignity, their hope, their spirit.
Interpretation of passage 37: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? Passage 38 says: When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? In passage 39: When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
From passage 40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did to respond in mercy and compassion to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did them for me.’
Come, come, come experience my Father’s joy in you! Come, my brother, come my sister. Come and rest now and forever in the joy and loving embrace of the God of life, the God of love, the God of family, the God of community, the God who welcomes the child and the childlike. COME! Claim your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
Written by Fr. Larry Dowling
The Bible: Matthew 25: 31-40