My Scripture reading for today is Matthew’s parable of the Last Judgment (25: 31 – 46), wherein Jesus explains the terms on which his judgment is going to be based. There are six acts of care and concern, each of them disarmingly simple: “I was hungry, and you fed me.” It doesn’t say: I was hungry, and you ended world hunger. Just: you fed me. “I was sick, and you cared for me. It doesn’t say: I was sick, and you cured me. Just: you cared for me. “I was in prison, and you visited me.” It doesn’t say: You paid my bail. Just: you visited me. “I was thirsty, you gave me drink. I was a stranger, you welcomed me. I was naked, you clothed me.”  Little gestures of caring, kindness, and common courtesy.

If I had a time machine and could travel back in history, I would like to have met Jesus.  There is no such machine, of course. But in the parable of the Last Judgment Jesus seems to be saying — to those of us born centuries too late to meet the historical Jesus in person — that the closest we can come to a transformative, face-to-face encounter with him is to be kind and merciful to the people who most need our care and concern. Whenever we see people in distress and we respond to them, we respond to Jesus; and whenever we see people in distress and we ignore them, we ignore Jesus.

Hearing these terms of judgment, the folks gathered at Christ’s left hand, the so-called goats, protest, saying, in effect: “Wait a minute! When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?”I think the problem is that we don’t see. We just don’t see.  In our kind of world, it is just so easy to become insensitive, if not outright oblivious, to other people’s pain. I read something, once, by the late Joe Garagiola, the former baseball player and baseball announcer and co-host of NBC’s Today Show for a few years. Garagiola said he was in a drugstore, and he had one of those plastic, hand-held shopping baskets that you pick up at the door. He said he had filled his basket with the following items:  a package of extra-strength Tylenol, a 12-ounce bottle of Kaopectate, the giant, economy size tube of Preparation H, a supply of corn plasters, a medicated salve for treatment of shingles, three ace bandages, an elastic knee support, and a spray can of burn relief ointment. Garagiola said that after the clerk rang up his purchases he was taken aback when she handed him his change, and said, “Have a nice day.” Garagiola was reaching for a joke, but he went on to talk about how oblivious we can be to other people’s pains.  Everybody you know carries around one of those little plastic shopping baskets. But so busy are we with our own little basket that we seldom notice what other people have in theirs.

For those of us born centuries too late to meet the historical Jesus in person — the closest we can come to a transformative, face-to-face encounter with him is to be kind and merciful to the people who most need our care and concern.

Pastor Louis Lotz

I was hungry, you didn’t feed me. I was a stranger, you didn’t welcome me. And so on. The so-called goats are indignant: “When did we see you hungry and not feed you? When did we see you a stranger and not welcome you?”   But the truth is that, often times, we don’t see. I think it’s not so much that we’re heartless or mean-spirited. We just don’t see. We don’t notice. Other people’s distress somehow doesn’t register.  Which, maybe, is what Jesus was getting at when he spoke of people who, having eyes, they do not see, and having ears, they do not hear.

Now and then, on a good day I see what others have in their shopping basket, so to speak, and I respond to their need. But all too often I’m wrapped up in my own affairs, and I don’t see. And to people who are aching with pain, and who need my help, to them I say, like Joe Garagiola’s check-out clerk, “Have a nice day.”  I need to do better, and I invite you to join me. Look at people, not just with your eyes, but with your heart and your imagination.  Enter sympathetically into their lives.  Try to get a glimpse of what’s in their little plastic shopping basket.  Look at the people who worship with you. Look at the people you work with and live with. Paradoxically, it is the people who are the closest to you that are the most difficult to see. Try to really look at people.

Do that, and gradually you’ll begin to notice those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, sick, imprisoned in some way or other. You’ll see them. You’ll notice what’s in their little shopping basket.  And then you’ll do the right thing, because you are a good person. You’ll respond to human need with simple acts of mercy, courtesy, and kindness. Do that, and there will be gladness in heaven, and the singing of the heavenly host, for of such is the kingdom of God.

Louis Lotz

Louis Lotz

Louis Lotz is a retired RCA minister, having most recently served as Senior Pastor of Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To honor his retirement the congregation endowed the Lou & Mary Jean Lotz Creative Writing Prize at Hope College. Lou lives in rural western Michigan, where he writes, tends fruit trees, grows grapes, and keeps honeybees.


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