We all like stories where the good people win and the bad people loose. Jesus told a such a story, but the good people didn’t know why they were good, and the bad people didn’t know why they were bad. The truth was hidden in plain sight.
The folks who were listening to Jesus were convinced that their salvation depended on how they worshiped God. If they followed the commandments, observed the sabbath, kept the dietary laws, then God would be pleased with them. No doubt that they were correct. The Law of Moses is holy. To follow the Law is to do God’s will. However, Jesus shed new light on what pleases God. He told a story about the future. Everyone is intrigued about the future, especially about the end of the world. “The end will be like this: The king will separate the sheep from the goats….(For those of us who like cabrito, we know that there is nothing wrong with goats.) Jesus used a metaphorical image so that folks could understand. The sheep did the right thing, but the goats messed up. The surprise is in the ignorance of both the sheep and the goats about what made them righteous and what made them accursed. Both the righteous and the accursed did something or failed to do something for the least among them. One would think that where salvation or condemnation is involved—the rules would be clear! We all like to know where we stand. Black and white religion is more popular than ever. That’s all that some folks want to know—“just tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it.” “Give me that old time religion.” That’s the reason that lots of people want to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Let go back to the good old days. The catechism was clearly outlined. There were sins of omission, venial sin, mortal sin and sacrilege. As far as some folks were concerned, Lent was all year long. Meat was prohibited every Friday—to eat meat on Friday was a mortal sin. Had to fast from 12:00 midnight until one received Holy Communion, which is why the early Holy Masses were the most popular. My parents were married at 7:30 in the morning. Fainting in church was a common occurrence. No one dared to turn around to look to the back because the Tabernacle deserved our undivided attention. Absolutely no talking, not even a whisper. Confession every week, even if you hadn’t done anything wrong—just go and make up something. Didn’t matter if one didn’t know the Latin, just get all the movements right—stand, kneel, genuflect, genuflect and genuflect. And if a person messed up in any way, the looks from the people were meant to kill.
Vatican II did much to shift the emphasis from what happens in the church to what happen outside of church—precisely the Gospel message of how we relate to the least of our brothers and sisters. The first step is to see them. Who are the least among us? How can we recognize them? The numbers of people who are thirsty, hungry, in prison are overwhelming. Saints who have walked before us took care of one person at a time. Perhaps we do not have to look very far. The least might be in our home. We tend to neglect those that we take for granted. Consider that we would rather avoid folks in the workplace who are obnoxious. People who have hurt us are kept at a distance. Jesus described missed opportunities as the leading cause for condemnation. “Where, when, how? Were you in disguise Lord? If we had known that was you Lord, we would have taken care of you because You are the King. Yes, Lord, You are the center of my life and I love you above all things. I just can’t stand my mother-in-law! I hate my boss. My next-door neighbor is the biggest pest in the world.” If Jesus had given us a set of rules to follow, life would be easier. But He didn’t. Jesus emphatically described circumstances where He is present in the least expected—in the people that we do not want to see.
The least of our brothers and sisters are all around. We can choose to see them or to ignore them.