In 1925, Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King. His intent was to emphasize that secularism does not hold the answer for Christians. Ultimately our allegiance is to the Risen Christ and not to worldly things. In today’s consumer world, we need to examine what drives our lives. Some pundits say it is the economy that has replaced religion, “The economy is my shepherd, I shall not want. My IRA leads me to restful waters.”
Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. He followed in the footsteps of the revolution begun by Moses. Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt where Pharaoh oppressed them. The Exodus story is not about locust plagues and parted seas. Moses and the Israelites were setting about the task of creating a system where justice prevailed.
What do we usually think of when we hear the word “justice?” _____ In the Bible justice means right order. Moses sought to bring about a world where people counted. He and the Hebrews had enough of a hierarchical, patriarchal world. They set forth to establish a just, egalitarian society where even orphans, widows and aliens have worth. They had no worth in a patriarchal, hierarchical society because they had no property, no stuff so to speak. To show the people what a just world looked like Moses went up the mountain and returned with the Ten Commandments etched in stone.
In Matthew 25, Jesus is teaching us how to live life now. Matthew portrays Jesus as the New Moses. This is poetry—chicken soup for souls caught up in secularism, consumerism and commodification. Human needs have to be met for humane living. Pope Francis warns us that we cannot live life fully if we are hung up on just meeting our own needs. Our compassion toward others, even those with the least dignity, is the measure of our wholeness, holiness. Our task is to bring about a just world order. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is painting a picture of what a just world order looks like. It is a world where every person has enough. The psychologist Abraham Maslow said that our basic survival needs must be met before we can entertain our higher needs, like self-esteem and love.
My first real encounter with the true meaning of Matthew came about 1988. We had been contributing to an organization called Food for the Poor. Ferdy Mafhood, a successful importer/exporter, decided to commit his life to serving others, especially the poor in Jamaica and Haiti. We decided to go on a mission trip to Haiti and took our youngest son who was in high school. In Haiti, we visited a leprosarium. We could not find John. He was sitting on the bed of another teenage boy who had leprosy and was talking to him. Wow! We visited two of Mother Teresa’s hospitals—one for sick and dying children and one for adults dying of AIDS or TB. I remember one boy kneeling by the bed and cradling his dying mother’s head while he wept. I remember nuns cuddling very sick children embracing them with love.
Every afternoon we would gather back at the Hotel Montana, which later collapsed in the big earthquake, for centering prayer and then a discussion. Ferdy made sure rum punch was available during the discussion. One afternoon when he was discussing Matthew 25, John looked at Joan and said, “Why don’t we ever hear about this in church?”
I share this story because it brings out the true meaning of Matthew 25. We are not on this planet for ourselves alone. Life is about others and making sure they have what they need to live human lives—food, drink, shelter, medical care, and education. We are also encouraged to welcome the stranger because, as Abraham found out, the stranger was God. Our stuff does not determine our worth.
All is not well on the planet and Jesus is calling us to create a more just world. Four million people die every year from poverty and its effects. That is the equivalent of 300 jumbo jet crashes per day—300 jumbo jet crashes every day. Forty thousand die every day from water related illnesses. One billion people live on less than $1 a day. One out of every five Americans lives in poverty in a nation of plenty. Two and one half million school children were homeless at some time in 2013.
St. Martin of Tours, a 4th century soldier, became a Christian after he had a dream. The day before Martin encountered a naked man shivering in the cold. He took out his sword and cut his cloak in half and gave it to the naked man. That night he had a dream. Christ came to him dressed in a tattered cloak. Martin asked, “My Lord, why are you wearing that tattered cloak.” Christ replied, “My servant Martin gave it to me.” Mother Teresa reminds us that we find Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor. Martin Luther King believed that the universe is bending toward justice.
Where do we find Christ? What drives our lives? Pius XI is telling us that secularism with rampant consumerism and unbridled capitalism—notice I said unbridled—cannot be our God. For some Psalm 23 reads, “The economy is my shepherd. I shall not want.” For us it is Matthew 25, “What have we done for others, especially for those with the least dignity?” Are we feeding them, clothing them, giving them drink and shelter, visiting the sick and imprisoned? Are we working like Moses and Jesus to change social and economic conditions and structures that keep people at subhuman levels? Are we in some way creating a more just world? What can we as St. Christopher’s Faith Community do to serve the least among us? I believe this is the challenge that Moses, Jesus and Pope Pius XI are putting before us today.