Monday, July 17, 2006

Meeting Jesus in Meeting the Needy

I've wondered about an aspect of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25. The text is well known: "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me" (vv.35-38).

At the very least, Jesus is teaching us that when we serve others that we serve him. I guess I've wondered if the text goes further than that -- that Jesus is not speaking figuratively when he says that you gave "me" something to eat, that you gave "me" drink, that you invited "me" in or that you came to "me" in prison. Rather, we literally draw near to Christ in drawing near in service to the needy.

A related notion is that the church is Christ's body and that we draw near to Christ when we assemble with the church (Heb 10.19, w/ vv. 22, 25). To be sure, the hungry, thirsty, naked or imprisoned do not necessarily need to be Christian. Nonetheless, Jesus seems to say in these verses that we meet him when we meet with the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to argue for some sort of universalism.)

The thing is that Christ changes us. He changes us when we meet him in his word, when we meet him in the sacrament of the altar (and baptism), and when we meet him in his body. And Jesus changes us when we meet him among the needy. To put it weirdly -- because it seems to invert the direction of "service" -- Jesus is actually in the needy ministering to us.

Perhaps that pushes it too far. But if it is true, I wonder whether one could then say that serving others is thereby a means by which we receive grace, and therefore such service belongs to the realm of promise rather than realm of law (to use Lutheran categories). If so, then we serve because of grace and promise rather than serve out of fear and command.

Or does that sound way too liberation theology-ey?


Blogger Matthew N. Petersen said...

I would have to agree. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will Love. But love means Christ. Therefore if, and to the extent that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will love the down-trodden, and seek to alleviate their suffering. Perhaps the trust causes us to be filled with the Spirit, which then results in the actions toward the poor, though I am not sure that there is a radical divide between trusting what Christ has said regarding taking no thought for tomorrow, trusting that there is a ressurrection from our crosses etc. and acting in accord with that trust. Only saving faith works, but only working faith saves, as Bonhoeffer said.

September 03, 2006 6:37 PM  

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