Jesus told of the separation of sheep and goats:
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.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 25:34-40 – July 18, 2012)
More than any other story in all of the gospel accounts, this one underscores for me what is at the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ: love of neighbor, service to others, care for those who are unable to care for themselves, and in so doing to demonstrate our love of God.
The First Letter of John sums it up beautifully: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 John 4:20-21)
Samuel Johnson was quoted by his biographer, James Boswell, as saying “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” A similar sentiment, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members,” is attributed to Mahatma Ghandi. In his second inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide for those who have too little.”
In the sacristy of the first church I served as a cleric (which was also the parish that raised me up as a candidate for Holy Orders) was a quotation from the Rt. Rev. Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908 until his death in 1924. Speaking at the conclusion of a worldwide Anglo-Catholic Congress in London the year before his death, Bishop Weston had reminded his listeners, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.” He concluded his speech with these words:
You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.
This message has been proclaimed by many speakers in many ways and at many times, but however it is said, it all boils down to the simple fact that as and what we do for the least in our community, we do for God. If we fail to provide for them, all our words and rituals count for nothing. This is the heart of the gospel.
Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.