Am I a sheep or a goat?
This is the question that always plagues me after hearing this past Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 25:31-46). Jesus’ description of the last judgment as a separation of the sheep and the goats never fails to leave me recalling the faces of panhandlers and feeling once more the gnawing of guilt. “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt 25:45). Have I neglected the Lord?
Without excusing ourselves from charitable works, it is necessary to recognize what it is the Lord is calling us to. He is truly requiring his followers to step out of themselves, to reach out, and to love and provide for those in need.
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
Christ gives numerous examples in his own life of these ministries (Mt 8:14-17; 14:13-21; 15:21-28; etc.). He uses these occasions of grace and healing in order to teach his disciples what motivated his Incarnation: charity. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13: 34-35). Charity begins with the inner affection which binds us to God, but this love also must be expressed outwardly, for instance, in devotion and in almsgiving.
While St. Thomas defines charity as a love of benevolence, that is, “well-wishing,” he speaks of almsgiving in this way:
As love of our neighbor is a matter of precept, whatever is a necessary condition to the love of our neighbor is a matter of precept also. Now the love of our neighbor requires that not only should we be our neighbor’s well-wishers, but also his well-doers, according to 1 Jn. 3:18: “Let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth” (Summa Theologiæ ΙΙ-II.32.5).
As we celebrate Christ’s kingship and our ministry in his service, as we prepare for his coming anew through the season of Advent, let us take up his exhortation to works of mercy. This winter, seek an occasion to reach out to the hungry, thirsty, naked, or imprisoned.
These works will help us to discover Christ in this world and to respond to his call. Hearing his voice in the cry of the needy, we will gladly hear his voice calling us to his side at the judgment. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). And being counted among the sheep is to dwell with the Shepherd forever.
Photo by Biegun Wschodni