Main theme: “You took care of me”…
Jesus declared his identification with human suffering, and presents us with a challenge that we should not look the other way.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King. But what kind of King was this who needed his subjects to clothe and feed him, visit him in hospital and in prison?
We live in a world in which there is cruelty. We have seen great cruelty in the middle east on our TV screens, connected with religious extremism.
In many movies including for example Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List (with Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes), sixty years ago the Christian countries of Europe–highly educated peoples–adopted extreme cruelty towards the Jews in Europe. As Christians, we should not be cruel like that, but rather, have courage to stand up for those being persecuted, and we should not look the other way.
In our gospel passage Jesus equates our response to the suffering of ‘the [apparently] insignificant’ around us with our response to Jesus himself.
This passage is Jesus’ farewell speech before the Passion in Matthew’s Gospel. It is the summing up of his ministry, and the explanatory key to his approaching sacrificial death. Jesus did not emphasize theology, philosophy, economics, art and poetry, liturgy; buildings; or evangelism. Rather, at that key moment of his life, Jesus emphasised caring for those who suffer, and not ignoring them. “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
The cross and the exaltation in Matthew’s Gospel is the same as in the Gospel of John (John 12:23, 31, 13:1-20). The exaltation of Jesus was his exaltation to the throne of the cross. He was simultaneously two things: Firstly, he was a suffering servant like the “Doctors without borders” –nurses, and administrators–in West Africa. Secondly, he was also a Messiah in the sense of a rescuing, delivering conqueror like George Washington or Alexander the Great.
From his throne on the cross, Jesus equated our expression of love for those whom others see as ‘insignificant’, love for those who suffer.
Ethel Slabbert was a very elderly lady, finding extreme difficulty in walking, normally escorted by another caring parishioner (Kay Marx), being bent almost double by her age. Yes Ethel was knitting blankets and clothing for AIDS babies. One of the reasons that Ethel said that she be does this is because she feels very fortunate to be a member of this congregation. Looking at her knitting, I saw that the knitting that she was doing for those AIDS babies was a preparation of clothing for the infant Christ himself.
This is what the Gospel passage means: “As much as ye did it for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” Ethel shows us what it means to not look the other way!
Some people give very generously of themselves, either in terms of money, of time, or of emotional investment. Others of us know that we do not give enough, or do so with small hearts and bent arms.
There are many ways each day we can care for the little ones of Jesus. Jesus was exemplary to us in his care of children; and in Luke’s Gospel, of women and the poor. In this passage we have seen how Jesus declared his identification with human suffering, and that he presents us with a challenge that we should not look the other way. For example, in some way, surely this passage applies to the care of immigrants and refugees.
This Thanksgiving, let us begin not just a day, but a deeper level in our lives of being more generous with sharing with the little ones of society, with the outcasts, with those who suffer – sharing our hearts, our time, and our money. Let us ask God
- For courage to stand beside ‘the insignificant’ even if the mighty are hell bent on destroying them, neglecting them, or ignoring them,
- For a spirit of self giving,
- For a spirit of thankfulness,
- For a spirit of gratitude,
- To help us give in a joyful way.