Today’s Gospel reading is something Jesus taught very close to the end of His earthly ministry. It expands upon and extends the Sermon on the Mount. If we follow the teaching of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 - 7 (and elsewhere), then we will find ourselves among those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the imprisoned, and more. The corporal acts of mercy are part and parcel of Christian discipleship (i.e. being a learner and follower of Jesus).
For those who reduce Christ to merely a moral teacher or spiritual do-gooder, today’s passage injects a healthy dose of reality. He is teaching authoritatively a very strict bifurcation of those who enter into rewards versus punishment. There is no wiggle room. No way to argue back to Him at the end of the age that we were too busy or simply unaware of what was expected of us. The Lord Himself is present among those who are in need of the mercies outlined. How we treat them is a direct outworking of our inner state, it corresponds 1:1 to the disposition of our hearts toward both God and each other.
Brutal honesty: when I am self-absorbed, I don’t want to do anything for others. I only want to wallow in the ‘me’ of the moment. “I” become everything. I walk past the beggar, ignore the naked, and forget the suffering. Jesus’ teachings are hard, nay, impossible if we continually get in our own way. And that is quite often, which is a good reason why we return to them daily. We cannot l merely think ourselves into the Kingdom of heaven. We cannot live the Christian life, the daily walk with the Lord, from our armchairs.
Christianity is not a philosophical system or self-help program. It is a lived existence in communion with the living God. Empowered by ever-moving grace, we must get up out of the chair. We must walk. We must do things that require us to go beyond ourselves. It sounds self-righteous when we hear this from others, even priests or pastors. “How dare someone judge me? Who are they?!” However, Holy Scripture makes these things quite plain to us. We know it is absurd to shoot the messenger, even if we don’t like how they say it to us. Even if they are hypocritical themselves. Instead, let us explore the words of the messengers (e.g the Gospel evangelists, and clergymen), take them seriously, and try to think about other people the way Jesus tells us to think of them. Let us pray and ask God to open small doors of opportunity for the corporal works of mercy.