Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Reflection This is a really bitter text to swallow. We are nearing the end of Jesus' ministry and the end of our liturgical year and all that we have learned throughout the long season of Ordinary Time is, we are intended to follow Jesus which means, we are to give preferential treatment to the poor.
In spite of what some argue, that the poor are responsible for their grievous situation, I believe for the most part people are poor because of corporate strategies and economic policies. The poor are poor as a consequence of other peoples decisions and actions. But the point of Jesus’ teaching and my reflection is not to assign blame. Instead it is to ignite social conscience and responsibility.
In his book published in 1971, A Theology of Liberation, the Dominican philosopher and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez coined the phrase, “preferential option for the poor” in which he invites Christians to be socially active to relieve poverty. Rather than be complicit in sustaining the problem by supporting the status quo, Gutiérrez points to the gospel where Jesus is instructing the twelve disciples regarding their mission, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt 10.16) “ Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10.34)
Jesus’ mission, and therefore our mission, is not to avoid rocking the boat, ruffling feathers, or upsetting the status quo. Quite the contrary. Jesus’ mission, and our purpose, is to wield the sword that separates what is of God from that which is not of God. Like sorting the sheep from the goats, Jesus’ sword separates the honorable, ethical and virtuous from the dishonest, unethical and vulgar. And this means, we are to take risks and not be afraid of upsetting the status quo.
Jesus identifies himself with those who are hungry, thirsty and strangers, not with those in positions of plenty, power and privilege. And he invites us to do likewise, to make our individual and corporate economic and policy decisions to care for the least and lost among us because when we do so we are turning toward him, toward God. This is an unequivocal call to action against poverty. Gutiérrez is clear, it really does not matter what we say we believe if at the end of the day, or the end of time, we fail to put flesh on the bones of God’s universal love. Goat or sheep? It is up to each and all of us to choose who we are.
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