The Greatest Work

Sermon by Father Mike, 11/18/2020

It should have come as no surprise when he said it—a peasant carpenter from Galilee, born amidst straw and dust, enveloped by the bare earth beneath him. From the moment the stable doors swung open to the world, Jesus’ status was abundantly clear—low class, unremarkable, unimportant. So when he gathered his companions to offer parting thoughts before suffering the depths of the cross, we should have known who would sit at his right side. And yet, his words still remain jarring. It forces us to wonder, where do we find ourselves in today’s scripture?

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

At a place like Haywood Street, it may be tempting to read this passage with a keen sense of accomplishment. I’m sure that most of us can say that we have visited the imprisoned or the sick, and the hungry surely have been fed. Each of us, in our own unique way, has offered our dedication to Christ through fellowship with the ‘least of these.’

For a long while, I looked back on this passage with affirmation. The ministry that Jesus prescribed in Matthew 25 felt familiar. But as time has gone on, I’ve come to believe that this verse is not about what we do for others. Jesus is calling us to far more than productivity or a sense of do-goodism. A deeper understanding of this passage is found from Jesus’ interaction with the accursed one who sits to his left.

When Jesus chastises those at his left hand, remarking that they did not visit the sick or imprisoned, failed to clothe the naked or to feed the hungry, the issue at hand is not merely material. For the accursed responds, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?” It isn’t made clear that they never visited a prisoner or provided a meal for one who was hungry. What is abundantly clear is that they failed to see God in their midst. Their error was not a failure to do, but a failure to see.

When we begin to understand Matthew 25 in this way, then Jesus’ call for us is about much more than a hot meal of a garment. Its message becomes more akin to Catholic social activist Dorothy Day’s reminder, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

Who do we love the least in our world?

Jesus dares us to look into the eyes of another and to see ourselves—strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, even divinity. And even more than that, Jesus calls us to gaze into the eyes of another and glimpse nothing short of the eyes of God.

When this becomes our world, then it’s not about who’s walking the halls of the hospital late into the night holding the hands of the dying. Nor is it about who sits patiently between the plexiglass hearing the stories of the incarcerated. It’s not about learning to feed five-hundred adequately, but encountering one divinely. This is the greatest work of mercy—to fix our gaze upon one another and encounter the spirit of God.