When Did We See You Hungry and Feed You?
"When did we ever see you hungry and feed you?" (Matthew 25:37)
Somewhere I read about St. Benedict's first rule for his followers: hospitality. They must always show kindness to strangers because in so doing they are showing kindness to Christ himself. The story is told about an old Benedictine monk who was about to lock the monastery door at the end of a very exhausting weekend. There had been so many guests and some of them had proved quite difficult to handle. He was secretly glad to see them all go so he could have a bit of rest. Just as he was closing the door, a new group of pilgrims walked up the path and asked for admittance. Under his breath, he said to himself, "Lord Jesus Christ, is it you again?"
These words of Jesus offer a liberating perspective because it is easy to feel overwhelmed or perhaps resentful at the intrusion of others into our well-planned agendas. And sometimes, consciously or not, we can give off an air of condescension, of pride and superiority, of smugness because "We've found the truth and you haven't, you poor, benighted pagans." And don't think those "poor, benighted pagans" can't sense it. They're not stupid. They know when Christians talk down to them. The words of Jesus help us see things in a new light.
We know that when we go "in his name," he goes with us.
We know that we are going "with him" and "for him."
But now we know that we are also going "to him."
He's on the receiving end of the mercy transaction.
He is there in the face of the Afghan refugee.
He stands with the homeless at the Harlem Avenue exit.
He is there with the single mother struggling with three young children.
He has a cell inside every prison in America.
He walks the halls of the cancer unit at the hospital.
He hears the cries of abused children.
He is there in the assembly of Sudanese believers.
If you look, you can see him in the streets of Calcutta. Mother Teresa found him there. But he is also in Hanoi and Montreal and Lisbon and in a Haitian town called Pignon. There is a sense in which the Lord Jesus can be found wherever there is human pain and suffering. If there is a broken heart, you can find him there. If there is sadness or guilt, Jesus will be there somewhere. That's why he was called "a man of sorrows." And there is a deeper sense in which you can find the Lord Jesus wherever you find his people scattered on the earth. "Where two or three are gathered together …" What's the end of that verse? "There am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20 KJV).
When we help his people, we are helping him.
When we dry a tear or offer a word of hope, we are serving him.
When we go the extra mile even though we are already dead tired and a bit frustrated because we don't have the time or energy and we're already behind schedule, but we do it anyway, he sees and knows what we have done, and he marks it down as if we had done it to him personally.
One day, long after we've forgotten the frustrations of this life, he will remember it. And we will be rewarded. It all comes down to this: Jesus forgets what we remember. And he remembers what we forget. You might even say that the whole gospel is in those two sentences.
Lord Jesus, give us eyes to see you in the eyes of the hurting, hungry, helpless people all around us. Then give us your heart to reach out to you and for you in your name, Amen.