You did it to me
Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.'Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?' And the King will answer, 'I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.'
Mt 25: 31-40
Think of someone you have helped. The person needed your help: you were able to give the help, and you gave it. Jesus named six needs; the need you met may have been one of these. ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison.’ It may not have taken you long to give the help that you gave: you may have helped a stranger on a particular occasion, and never saw that person again. On the other hand, the helping may have gone on for a long time when you cared for a sick member of your family or looked out for an elderly neighbour.
When did we see you?
Now hear what Jesus says about the person you helped: when you looked after that person, you looked after Jesus himself. You may say, ‘Nothing like that ever crossed my mind.’ This is what the people in the Gospel said, ‘When did we see you hungry or thirsty or sick?’ Jesus said, ‘As long as you did it to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ What a surprising statement that is. When we meet a person in need, there is Jesus. When we do an act of kindness for that person, we are doing it for Jesus.
Something else is happening. When we have mercy and give help, Jesus is not only in the people we help, he is in us too. In that moment, not only is he in us, he is in charge in us, he rules in us. We read this Gospel story on the feast of Christ the King. We do not find Jesus the King in a palace; we find him in the poor and needy. We see him ruling, not in a display of power and might, but in the people who reach out to the needy to show them mercy and to give them justice. Pope John Paul II said that the suffering of those in need releases love ‘in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a "civilization of love."’
A different world
How different the world would be if everyone who is hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick or in prison, had someone who cared about them and was willing to give the help and support that they need. Jesus would rule the world from within the poor and needy and from within those who helped them. To an extent he is doing this. I asked you to remember a time you helped someone in distress. Millions of such acts of good neighbourliness are done every day all over the world, and in each of these acts that is done out of love, Jesus rules.
All of us together
Yet millions live in extreme poverty without proper nourishment, clean water, adequate accommodation or basic health care. Their presence is an appeal to us and a challenge to give practical help, to change the way we live and the way we trade and spend. Our world gives first place to consumerism, profit, selfishness and greed. If the first place is given to the hungry, the homeless, the outcast and the sick, everything else will find its rightful place. If everyone shares there will be enough for all. We will have more to enjoy and to celebrate, all of us together.
As you receive Jesus in Holy Communion, remember that you have met him also in the people you have helped. Remember too that he already lives and rules in you as you play your part in changing his world into a civilization of justice, mercy and love.
Live, Jesus, live, so live in me that all I do be done by thee.
And grant that all I think and say may be your thoughts and words this day.