…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
These lines from Matthew sum up the gospel for me. They act as a rule of life. They are a compass and a guidepost when I take the time to survey my life and determine if I am on the right path or have somehow gotten waylaid. Have I lost my way in the frantic busyness and speed of our culture? Have I forgotten what is important and misplaced my priorities. Yes, I think I have, and I fear I am part of a society that has also lost its way.
I’m writing this in the second week of Lent. Scott Wagoner, a minister I follow on Twitter, tweeted this reminder the other day, “If nothing else, Lent gives us the space to do something we very rarely do… reflect on our lives to see if we are headed in the right direction.” If Lent is giving me the gift of space then what do I find in that space?
I find that I have been complacent in assuming that no matter what one’s individual political preferences are, we are all together in wanting to give everybody a chance to pursue the American Dream. The results of our last presidential election showed us that there are many Americans who feel they have been left out. Technology has made many jobs obsolete yet we have not provided training for these fellow citizens to obtain jobs in the new economy. The Affordable Care Act was not perfect yet it has provided millions of Americans with insurance that was unobtainable before. I have fallen short in assuming that if I paid my taxes and contributed to charities the hungry would be fed and the prisoner would be visited. I am blessed to work for an organization whose mission is caring for the poor and vulnerable yet it becomes more obvious every day that this is not a job that can be left to others.
I depend on the mandates of Matthew 25 being fulfilled by donations to the church and through my taxes but what happens when the commonweal breaks down? We like to think of ourselves as the city shining on the hill, a beacon of hope for all. But when that beacon is snuffed out ?when families right here in Austin are separated through deportation, when the refugee is turned away from our shores, and when the sick are not universally recognized as deserving of care, then I have to look at my part in forming the society we live in.
Matthew 25 is a call for action. This call is directed at me and is directed at all of us as a society. I don’t think things will get better until each of us takes these words to heart. There are many people in the world working diligently to fulfill this obligation, but Jesus is telling me that as long as one of us is hungry, as long as one of us is sick, as long as one of us is the outcast and the stranger, we all are. The Kingdom of God comes–the Dream of God is fulfilled–when the consciousness of our culture shifts; when we awaken to the awareness that we are all in this together. Lent provides me the space to come to this realization–to stretch out my hand to my neighbor–whoever she or he might be and say “I am with you.”