"... 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." -- Matt. 25:35-40
This parable tells us that we can find Jesus in the poorest of the poor: in the hungry and homeless, in the stranger, in the sick and lonely, in those imprisoned, in "the least of these who are members of my family." And yet, those who are the least, can also find Jesus in the ones who share their plenty, who care for the sick, who provide for the hungry, who free the oppressed. Mother Teresa said that when she cared for the poorest of the poor in India, she saw Jesus in them. When we saw her caring for the poorest of the poor, we saw Jesus in her.
We are ALL members of God's family. We are all created by God, and connected to each other by God.
This connection makes me think of the etymology of the word "compassion." It comes from the same root as the word "womb." Like a mother whose womb viscerally shifts when her child is hurt, we are meant to feel such a connection to those in need. That is the meaning of compassion: to be moved, viscerally, by the plight of someone else, and help them, automatically.
Unfortunately, we don't often feel connected to our fellow human beings in this way. We more often see ourselves as separate entities.
I am reminded of recent readings about Buddhism, in Huston Smith's "World Religions." Buddha believed that life, as normally lived, is full of suffering. It doesn't have to be, but it is, because we separate ourselves from each other. Smith explains Buddha's insight: "Our duty to our fellows is to understand them as extensions, other aspects, of ourselves -- fellow facets of the same Reality. This is some distance from the way people normally understand their neighbors. The customary human outlook lies a good halfway toward Ibsen's description of a lunatic asylum in which 'each shuts himself in a cask of self, the cask stopped with a bung of self and seasoned in a well of self.' ...Where is the man who is as concerned that no one go hungry as that his own children be fed? ...Here, said the Buddha, is where the trouble lies; this is why we suffer. Instead of linking our faith and love and destiny to the whole, we persist in strapping these to the puny burros of our separate selves." (pg. 103) When we separate ourselves from others, in any way, we create suffering in the world.
Now, this parable is NOT meant to teach us that life is about what line we are standing in at the end of days. That too separates us from our neighbor. The righteous ones in the story had no memory of what they had done. They didn't try to earn their place in line. They simply loved their neighbor as themselves. They helped where help was needed. They had compassion.
Yet, so often, we read passages like these in the Bible, and we sidestep their intent. We codify them: "What must I do to have eternal life?" Well, I must feed the hungry, take water to the thirsty, take clothes to the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned. THAT will get me into heaven. Or, I must tithe -- no not tithe, I must "sell everything and give to the poor. THAT will get me into heaven. Or, I must have faith (the right faith, no less); repent, confess, and be baptized by immersion. THAT will get me into heaven. Our lives then become all about our individual selves.
What about simply staying connected? Whatever happened to simply loving God with all our being, and loving our neighbor as ourselves? Oh, that's much too hard -- let's think of something else we can do.
Dear Lord, in our great desire to seek you, we all look for THE way. I am no different. I too have made this same mistake. But our guiding light is Jesus, who loved you with his whole being and had compassion for everyone. May we too grow and blossom in that divine love. Your truly, Pam