“When did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink?”
Thursday, 26 November 2020
The parable of the Last Judgement opens the way for us to reflect, individually and communally, on how we reach out to those in need. It offers us an opportunity to recommit ourselves to works of charity. The deeds, by which all the nations are judged in this parable, are familiar because Jesus himself responded to such need. Earlier in the Gospel Jesus himself has compassion on hungry crowds and feeds them (14:14-21). We also know that Jesus healed those who came to him (4:24; 8:5-13; 15:21-28). Jesus tells us that he comes to serve and not to be served (20:27-28). The Last Judgement scene St Matthew describes, reminds us that the face of Jesus is seen and encountered in the faces of those who are in need, those we are invited to serve today. We should, therefore, not be surprised that judgement is based on fulfilment (or not) of doing what Jesus did.
In a world where more and more people find themselves in need of the basics, this parable compels us to rethink our understanding of charity, the programmes we run and are involved in – individually or as a community.
But the parable asks us to go further than merely doing charitable works. It invites us to unmask the systems of injustice that leave millions thirsty, hungry and naked. Our charitable works cannot and should not be separated from fighting the political, economic and social structures that leave people living impoverished lives. Doing charitable works is an important step in helping people reclaim some of their dignity. Dignity will, however, only be fully realised when the structures that perpetuate their plight are dismantled.
Hélder Câmara was Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, from 1964-1985. He was a great advocate for the urban poor. Câmara knew that our Christian service needs to go beyond charitable works. His advocacy on behalf of the poor brought him into conflict with the military regime that ruled his country. Câmara understood that charity and fighting the systems that caused poverty go hand in hand. He famously said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
The Last Judgement invites us to act with charity and ask why the poor have no food. Soberingly, it is our ability to do this, which determines how we will be judged.
In what works of charity am I involved? What structures, in my sphere of influence, are unjust? How will I work for change?