A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 25:31-46:
Jesus said to his disciples:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Reflection: Jesus in the poor
The gospel reading above tells us that Jesus is the brother of those materially poor and that whatever we do or not do to the least of the world, we do or not do unto Him. There is such a thing as sin of omission. If we neglect to help the poor, then off we go to eternal punishment. Yet there is more to the gospel reading than the separation of people into sheep and goats during the final judgment.
Jesus is our king who showed us the ultimate mercy. When we were hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned by sin, he saved us. In fact, when we were nothing, He made us His sons and daughters. That is why whatever good thing we do for other people is just an overflow of what Jesus did to us. If we are able to love others, it is because God has first loved us (1 John 4:19). Thus, it is Jesus who made us sheep by grace alone and not by our own effort (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Truly, we don’t go and feed the hungry in order to earn any ticket to heaven. We don’t go to visit the inmates at the nearby jail so that we will look good in the eyes of God. If we do then we become self-righteous but no, we don’t do good things for any other reason except that Jesus, by His grace and mercy, has changed us from being a goat into a sheep. Thus helping the poor is just a natural consequence of being a true disciple of Jesus.
Being poor and helping the poor do not automatically make us righteous. It is only by allowing Jesus to be king in all aspect of our life that we become righteous. Take note that in the gospel, the sheep do not even know they have been doing corporal acts of mercy. It is because it has become a natural thing for them. That is why, whether you are rich or poor, if Jesus is your king then you tend to do as He did.
This is not to water down any mission to the poor by well-meaning individuals or groups. To serve the poor and to work for justice and peace are noble missions and we should all be involved. After all, we are all called to make the Kingdom of God become fully realized. Yet, Jesus must be at the center of every mission so that we will never boast of what we are doing.