Many people in many churches, beyond the boundaries of our Catholic church, heard the same Gospel that we did on Sunday, that Gospel being Matthew 25:31-46.
This Gospel is so challenging and yet, I think it is so often misunderstood. I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself, how I personally have misunderstood and misused these words of Christ!
Matthew 25 – and duly so at one level – is a real charge of the social Gospel. As for my part, in an angrier and more passionate era of my life, I would frequently invoke these words. Yes, it is time for me, your humble parish secretary and office manager to admit something… I have spent most of my life being little more than a dirty, filthy hippy. (OK, feel free to smile, I am trying to be funny, but I am telling the truth.)
As such, I was just pretty angry at what I perceived as all the injustices in the world. Dang you people, I thought! Be nice to the poor people, just like Jesus told us!!! This was my… um – er – it was my mantra. So I spent a lot of time railing at the very world I was a part of for not being nicer and more peaceful. This was what Jesus was telling us, no?
Well – He was telling us that. He was also – IS also – telling us a lot more than just that. Hint – this is why we are MANY members but ONE body. As we come together, we literally re-member or restore the Body of Christ.
So back to the hippy part – I was sure that I was onto something important. Very Important! Now every time I would encounter someone that I thought was ignoring Jesus, I would be tempted to tell them so. However, I have come to begin to understand something of late. Do you think that I’m onto something here… Jesus is talking to ALL of us. That’s right – all of us, sheep and goats. We are all both. So even if we are pretty certain that we are doing what Jesus tells us to do, we might also want to reconsider. I mean – maybe we are doing that – but I am thinking that we are all missing something too.
The Gospel is meant to make all of us uncomfortable and to challenge us. This brings me to the words of author Anne Lamott, (a pretty dirty, filthy hippy herself), who once said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
So when I heard the words about who fed, clothed, visited and tended and about who did not feed, clothe, visit and tend on Sunday morning, I felt a little ill. Jesus was not feeding me lines. I’m now pretty sure that he was actually speaking to me. And you. And all of us. Always.
What a pain.
Yesterday, someone reminded me of something that I “knew” but that I had not integrated… If we think that we somehow grow closer to God by coming to Mass alone, we are sadly misinformed. We do come to mass to be close to God and to feed at the table that gives us strength and grace. Then we do what mass really means – to be dismissed – to be a blessing to others and to (in the words of one option of dismissal, added at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI!) “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” (That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?)
So where am I headed on this ramble? Well, we all have questions to answer about who we feed, clothe, tend and visit no matter who we are. If we leave mass and go announcing what we are pretty smug about ourselves, we may be in trouble. Our obligation is not to exhale, thinking that we have “made it” but rather to take a deep breath and meet head on the obligation to do that feeding, clothing, visiting and tending in places not of our own choosing, then maybe we might get somewhere.
In the end, perhaps if we feel good about what we have done, rather than scorn others for what we think that they have yet to do, we might remember that each one of us tends to some form of the “least” of these. As for the least of these that you disdain… well, they need tending too. Which all brings me to one of the other options for dismissal in the New Roman Missal – “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” Hearing that makes it a lot harder to feel good about my tending and to disdain you for yours.
We are one.
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