Summary: Christians can discover what more they can do for Christ by asking themselves "What else, What more, When else, and Why else?"so as to be numbered among the sheep rather than the goats.
What More Can I Do?
The Parable of the Talents dealt with the obligation of people who have received special gifts to increase them, add “interest" by applying and developing them. Today in the Judgment of the Nations referring to ordinary Christians rather than just the leadership, there is also the message to do more for King Jesus, in all activities, in whatever we do for those in need. We can do it by asking ourselves “What else" type questions. We don’t earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds, but they are an important result of our total faithfulness to Jesus. (Hare, Douglas, ed., Interpretation: Matthew. Louisville, John Knox Press, 1993.)
Kings or monarchs in ancient times had several functions. They promulgated and enforced laws, sat in judgment, and protected their subjects, who were to remain loyal and make such payments as were required of them to maintain the kingship.
In today’s reading, the king functions as a judge. He judges all the nations and the individuals within them.
He divides people into sheep and goats. Sheep are in general more gentle and cooperative than goats. However, both the sheep and the goats did not fully realize or understand the goodness or evil of all of their deeds or, especially, their inaction. The sheep had to ask the king when they did the works of mercy for the king, works that were pointed out in the reading. So did the goats, whom the king accused of negligence toward the needy. Neither the sheep nor the goats realized that what they did for anyone in need, they did for the king, who represents Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel refers to the least of the king’s brothers as needing mercy from us all. In Matthew’s Gospel brothers means not only the family relationship, or fellow Christians, but also everyone in need. (5:22, 23, 24, 47:7, 7:3,4,5) When Jesus said “Love your neighbor” and explained who neighbors are, it is clear he meant all persons, as does the word “brothers” here, especially the Gentile Christians.
There are spiritual as well as physical needs in others that we must attend to. The examples Jesus cites today include some of both, emphasizing the physical such as hunger, thirst and nakedness, whereas welcoming and visiting not only have a physical component, but are forms of encouragement, recognition or consolation.
Most people are willing to feed the hungry. It is common to contribute to food and clothing drives a few times a year, and maybe bring food, clothing and even bottled water occasionally to church or to aid organizations. Most people will occasionally sent a check when they hear about extreme disaster. What more can a modern-day disciple of Jesus do? Every time you buy groceries buy some extra food or bottled water for the hungry, because hunger is a 24/7 need. Ask your pastor where in church you might bring your food gifts or you can find a food aid organization, even ones who will pick up your donations. Help out beggars directly or give them advice where they can get help, such as at church offices. Put yourself in their situation and give them the benefit of the doubt unless it is clear they just want money to feed an addiction. See if they will accept food instead of money, and buy them the food.
In addition, you can give to a food aid organization regularly, every month, and as part of your retirement planning look into annuities, or retirement plans, offered by the same food aid agencies, including of course Christian ones. You can also include food aid charities in your will.Be sure to do proper diligence, such as checking at charitynavigator.com before making any investment, to avoid Ponzi schemes.
Speaking of water and thirst, Jesus mentions those who thirst also in today’s reading. Where else is thirst mentioned? In the Beatitudes, the blessed thirst for justice. The opportunity to obtain clean drinking water is a fundamental human need, with many deaths and illnesses resulting from lack of access to potable water. To ignore these people in need would be an injustice.
Think also about what Jesus says about thirst in the different Gospels. When he met the Woman at the Well, he asked her for a drink, not having a bucket to lower into the well himself. I’m sure Jesus asked in a polite, caring way with his tone of voice. Even though the response likely sounded rude, asking why a Jew was talking to a Samaritan because they didn’t get along and shouldn’t be seen talking to each other, Jesus is patient and caring, offering her “living water” so she would never thirst again from lack of righteousness because she accepted God’s grace. We too can distribute the fruits of God’s grace by our patience, caring, and gentleness in everyday interactions. By so doing, we leave the realm of exclusive focus on ourselves and our needs to become an agent of God’s Providence for all. (Van Kama, Adrian, The Woman at the Well. Denville, New Jersey, Dimension Books, 1976).