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Serving the Least

November 26, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

November 26, 2017
Matthew 25:31-46
Fr. George Smiga

Today’s gospel is one of the most dramatic scenes in the bible. Jesus comes at the end of time and judges who is worthy of eternal life and who is not. And, since the stakes are so high, it is crucial for us to appreciate what is the criterion on which Jesus bases his judgement. Surprisingly enough that criterion does not include many of the things we associate with holiness. Jesus does not ask whether we go to church on Sunday, whether we have made our confirmation, whether we have an annulment. He does not seem to be concerned about whether we are married or single, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight. His only focus is to inquire what we did or failed to do in serving others. Because this criterion is so singular and necessary, it is important for us to appreciate how Jesus describes those we are to serve: He asks us to serve the least among us. Jesus is not asking us to serve people in some general way. He has a specific category in mind. Who then are the least among us? They certainly include the categories that Jesus mentions: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and imprisoned. But, these are only examples of the least. The category of the least is broad enough that it can include at least one more member: those who are the least for us.

This parable asks us who do we consider the least, those whose value is the hardest for us to see, those whose actions confuse and disturb us, those whose attitude and beliefs can anger and frighten us. Jesus says that the basis of our judgement on the last day will depend on how we serve those we consider the least. Then in a move that surprises both the sheep and the goats, Jesus says that whatever we do for the least among us, we do for him.

The expectation that Jesus places before us is not an easy one. He asks us to serve those who appear to be the least to us. This can be very difficult. But no one said that entry into heaven would be a free ride. Jesus places this expectation before us not to frighten us but to clarify what he expects from us and what it means to follow him.

There might be a member of your family who in your eyes is the least: a son or daughter who has greatly disappointed you, a brother or sister who has done shameful things and to whom you have not spoken in years. Jesus wants you to know that it is a good and beautiful thing during this holiday season to gather with your children and your grandchildren and celebrate all the blessings that you have received. But that is simply loving the people you love. It is when you reach out to least in your family that you are loving Jesus.

There might be someone at school or work who is definitely the least in your eyes: a person who is always negative and critical of everything, a person who has the ability to strangle the joy out of any situation. Jesus want you to know that when you return to school or work this week and share what you did for Thanksgiving and enjoy the stories you have to tell, that is only enjoying the people you enjoy. But when you walk over to that least person and ask him or her with a smile, “How was your Thanksgiving?” then you are serving Jesus.

People who are different from us can make us wary and uncomfortable. When we approach someone of a different culture or religion, we can become suspicious. We can consider them the least in our eyes. Jesus wants us to know that it is a blessing to gather with our friends, who look like us and think like us. But that is only caring for those we care for. It is when we open the door at the mall for the woman in burka or wish “Merry Christmas” to the Afro-American gentleman in front of us in the checkout line that we are caring for Jesus.

So that is the challenge that is placed before us today. To love, not the people we already love, but to serve those who are least to us. Such a challenge is difficult to meet. But this much is clear: if we are able to see in the faces of those who we consider the least the face of Jesus, it will be easier to serve them. And that will be a blessing for us—both now and when we are gathered among the sheep on the last day.

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