Chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the Beatitudes which Jesus proclaims to open his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us we are to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” He teaches us how we are to live our life of faith. Much of that life is spent in relation to others out in the world—in our families, in our workplaces and, well, just out there wherever we are whenever the Lord places someone in our path. We will read much later in St. Matthew’s Gospel that we are to make a difference in the lives of many that we might rather avoid. Jesus plainly says to us that what we do not do to make a difference can cost us our place in Heaven.
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:41-46).
We are created for Heaven, but we are placed in this world to come to know and love God—and to serve Him by serving others. We are, in other words, to become holy, learning to love as He loves—selflessly, not selfishly. So these teachings of the Lord are of supreme importance for us. But, it seems hard at times to follow them, because the Lord asks us to come into contact with… even get to know people who may make us feel uncomfortable. People who may be on the fringes of our society and comfort zone.
For example, far too many people are hungry. It seems overwhelming in the abstract. It is easy enough to share out of one’s excess and donate to relief services and it is very good and necessary to do so. But what about dealing with specific people who are hungry. It seems to become a bit more complex and many “good” reasons surface to lead one to inaction. I just don’t have the time or I don’t know what I can do. Or, may God forbid, we judge that the hungry person is personally responsible for their hunger and isn’t worthy of our time. I spent a morning with a group of men who went to a local mission to serve breakfast to the homeless and unemployed hungry. It is impossible to feel those thoughts after sitting down and striking up conversations with them in the course of serving them food. It sounds like a cliché, but you really come away with more than you brought to the table. That’s what happens when you serve God as He wills. The more you give, the more you will receive—maybe not materially, but in terms of grace and peace and joy. You really do become a better person when your love is directed outwards.
Another area that often fills us with anxiety and even outright fear is to spend time with those who are ill and suffering; especially those who are dying. You might think that you simply will have nothing to give to these poor souls. What can I say or do to help? “Lord, I would visit the sick, if I just knew what to do”, you might think. But the Lord does not place a caveat on this command. He does not say that you are to do these things when you feel like it and when it makes you comfortable. A variation on an old phrase might go something like this, “God does not call the comfortable to service, He comforts those He calls when they serve.” Realizing the truth of this phrase is liberating.
Just visiting with the afflicted can awaken a whole new you. You come to realize that the comfort you bring even surpasses the comfort of physically feeding and caring for those in need. Your very presence can be the spiritual and emotional lift the person most needs and craves—to know someone cares and is willing to spend time with them. Have you ever walked the halls of a nursing home and seen the residents sitting in their rooms with their doors open—or sitting in the common spaces—with expectant looks that tell you unmistakably that their time is spent waiting for someone… anyone to stop and say hello and ask how they are and what’s on their minds; someone who will just listen to them.
All of us are sinners. There is not a one of us who does not need the Savior. Some have sinned more gravely than others and have even been sent to prison. But each of us was the cause of the nails driven into the body of the Lord at Calvary. And then there are some who are imprisoned unjustly. Prison work is certainly one of those areas that makes many uncomfortable. But, the Lord does not excuse us of our responsibility to care even for the imprisoned. Maybe the Lord is not calling you to prison ministry; maybe He has other areas in mind for you. But then, maybe He is calling you to visit those in prison. The point is, when you open yourself up to God’s will and He places someone in your path, you are to act, not equivocate and find obstacles. How will we know what God wants specifically for us if we don’t ask and listen… urgently and persistently and faithfully?
Read out loud and listen to the words of the Lord spoken to Isaiah… take them to prayer and meditate on them.
Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday (Is 58:7-10).
God is teaching us through Isaiah how we are to live our lives. The question we each need to ask is, “Am I doing what the Lord wants or what I want?”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-16).
One purpose of salt in Jesus’ time was to both preserve food and to enhance its flavor. He tells his disciples, that if they are not helping to preserve the lives of those they encounter and to make them better, then they (His disciples… and us) are not who they were made to be… and get this, they are worthless; “no longer good for anything.” Like a city set on a hill, the lives we live are to shine like beacons in a world shrouded in darkness and point to the Good News and give glory to God. His words direct us out from ourselves towards others.
The ways we are to live this life are twofold. We are called to a life of charity. By this I am specifically thinking of giving to meet an immediate need. But the Lord calls us also to work towards a day both in general and in particular when the “handout” is no longer needed. Handouts, not used in the perjorative sense so popular today, are necessary. But a helping hand up where the person is not just given a fish but empowered to catch his own fish is also necessaary. And many times that helping hand up involves working through political and other areas to change the circumstances that find so many in need of the immediate handout. As Christians, the Lord calls us to this work.
This is not only the path to Heaven, it is the path to peace and joy for our lives in this world, even though we may find ourselves in the midst of evil and suffering. To be selfish and love only inwardly may lead to great worldly riches, but history and our own personal experience surely demostrate such a life never leads to peace, joy and lasting happiness.
Jesus has given us our marching orders. He has delivered the inspiring message we need to see us to the end of our race. So, as St. Paul would say, “Go run the good race and fight the good fight.” There is no better life we can lead than this. There is no better gift we can give others than the gift that the Lord has entrusted to us. And there is no better lesson and example we can pass on to our children.
Go make a difference for the Lord.
Into the deep…
Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.
Please follow me on Twitter:
If you liked this article, please both share and like using the social media buttons below the video. Thanks! — Deacon Mike