Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew 25 is a passage I’ve written about before. In it, Jesus tells his disciples how the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. He will say to the sheep on his right:
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.
Those on his left are told they are condemned because they did none of these things. Both groups are somewhat confused by this message. Those on the right say – look, we’re really happy to be saved and all that, but, tell us Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger, naked, sick, in prison; we don’t really remember doing any of those things. And the Son of Man responds: when you did it to the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for me.
And to those on the left who say, wait a minute, we never saw you and refused you love or help, we never would have passed you by if we saw you in need, the Son of Man says: when you did not do it for the least of these you did not do it to me.
The theologian Michael Himes calls this passage “one of the most extraordinary statements” of our call to agapic love in the whole Christian tradition. He writes,
Please notice: the criterion of judgment has nothing to do with any explicitly religious action. The criterion is not whether we were baptized, or prayed, or read Scripture, or recieved the Eucharist, or believed the correct doctrines, or belonged to the church. Not one of these – however important they may be – is raised as the principle of judgment. Only one criterion is given: Did you love your brothers and sisters?
One of the primary Lenten practices is almsgiving. As today’s Gospel makes clear, meeting the needs of others is central to who we are as Christians. Lent invites us to place particular focus on our obligation to respond to the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters.