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November 24, 2002

“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

The Feast of Christ the King. Matthew 25: 31-46  

On Tuesday night, I spoke at the annual Catholic Charities New Mexico fund raising dinner in Albuquerque and I met church people from around the state who are working full time, serving the needy, running food pantries, visiting the sick, working with prisoners, helping immigrants, and taking care of the homeless. The Archbishop gave out "Matthew 25" medals to honor those who serve Christ in the needy and he gave one to our own Sr. Hildegarde Smith from Cimarron, and it was a great evening to celebrate this Gospel of Matthew 25.

I think this Gospel sums up Christianity, the spiritual life, and what lies in store for us when we die, so buckle your seat belts, I'd like to say five things about it:

First, in this Gospel and on this feast, we celebrate Christ as our King and his kingdom. In other words, Jesus is our political leader, which means for me, we are neither Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, right or left--we are servants of the great King. Our allegiance is to Jesus and his kingdom and his politics. And when you think about what kind of king we have, you notice that Jesus' politics are completely different from any ruler or president or emperor. He acts in the complete opposite way. He sides with the poorest of the poor. He stands with our enemies. He is always loving, compassionate and nonviolent.

Second, notice that this story about the last judgment is not so much about individuals, but nations. It says that God will judge the nations of the world and divide the nations into two groups. So we need to ask ourselves: what does God think about our nation? From God's perspective, looking down upon this beautiful planet God created, I think God sees that our country is only 4.7% of the world's population, but that we hoard, dominate and control over 60% of the world's resources. We take oil and other natural resources from poorer nations, and ignore their poverty and starvation. We are the richest nation in the history of the world and we can do so much good, yet over two billion people live in misery; 800 million people are malnourished; and some 50,000 people die of starvation every day--and we do nothing about it, except make it worse. I think God wants our nation to end world hunger, poverty and war, and if we tried to do this, to share our wealth with the world's poor, we would cut the roots of terrorism and win everyone over. So I think God is not pleased with us as a nation and will judge us harshly.

Third, we may ask: Where is God in the world? Today's Gospel gives us the answer: God is in the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned, the marginalized, the enemy. That's where God is. However we treat them, we treat God. If we help them, we help God. If we do not help them, we do not help God.

So the trick is to serve Christ in one another, in the needy. Whatever we do to one another, to the needy, we do to Christ. If we hurt one another, if we put one another down, if we gossip about one another, if we are mean or violent to one another, we are mean and violent to Christ.

If on the other hand, we serve one another, love one another, help one another, and take care of anyone who is homeless, hungry, sick, imprisoned or in need, we serve Christ. We have to treat one another as Christ, as if the person you are sitting next to right now is Jesus, and not just individually and as a parish, but as a nation.

So on Tuesday night, I told the audience that we have to keep living out Matthew 25 right here in New Mexico but we have to follow the logic of Matthew 25 to Jesus' politically incorrect conclusion: "Whatever you do to the suffering people of Iraq, you do to me. Whatever you do to the people on death row, you to do me. Whatever you do or do not do to the billions of starving, impoverished people around the world, you do to me."

Economic injustice, corporate greed, war and nuclear weapons make Christ homeless, hungry, sick, and imprisoned; and when we drop bombs on other countries, we crucify and kill Christ all over again. So our job, as mature Christians, is to love and serve Christ everywhere, regardless of what the world says--in one another, in the needy, in everyone in New Mexico, in the children of Iraq and Palestine and around the world.

Fourth: Notice that no one on either side, the good or the bad, the sheep or the goats, recognize Jesus. They all ask, "Lord when did we see you?" I heard Mother Theresa on several occasions say: "Jesus comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor and the enemy." He's disguised. We do not see him. The challenge is to learn to look into each other's eyes, into the eyes of anyone in need, into the eyes of our enemies, and see Jesus.

Finally, I want to invite all of us to reflect on this text, to talk about it at home, and to ask ourselves: how are we living this text? What more can we do to be on the side of the sheep? How can we be more deliberate about trying to serve Christ in one another, to be nonviolent with one another, and to help those in need? That may mean, taking care of our sick, being compassionate to the people at the prison, helping with the food collection and the food pantry, getting involved with Catholic Charities or donating to the Campaign for Human Development, and joining church organizations to end world hunger and oppose the war with Iraq.

Next week, as we begin the season of Advent, I want to propose that as a parish each one of us takes time each day throughout Advent for prayer, that we might have a kind of season of prayer for each other and our world to welcome the coming of our King and his way of peace and nonviolence. Then after New Year's, I want to propose that we begin a series of open meetings for everyone in the parish, and discuss electing a parish council and setting up committees for our parish and for more outreach to serve Christ in the needy and in the world, as concrete steps toward that day when Christ will say to each one of us, "Come you who are blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you."

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