Summary: Christians can discover more ways to serve those in need by asking themselves questions like: Who else? What else? Where else, in order to act as sheep rather than goats.
What More Can I Do? (Revised)
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.
What else do people hunger for besides food? They hunger for signs of appreciation, that they are not taken for granted. Compliments and thank-you’s go a long way to satisfy that hunger or thirst.If someone does something well, tell them so and they will be better able to identify their talents.
Compliments need not be reserved for only exceptional deeds. Just say, I really liked (whatever it is.)
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.