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.
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 seeen 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 Kaam, Adrian, The Woman at the Well. Denville, New Jersey, Dimension Books, 1976.)
It is often lamented that resources are scarce because of the world economy now. Still, we can offer the same percentage of our income as we have been doing. However, there are additional gifts we can provide that cost nothing. When else did Jesus mention thirst? Jesus on the Cross said “I thirst.” What else did Jesus say on the Cross? We can note that he forgave his tormenters and executioner. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” So forgiveness is a free gift, an act of mercy, something else we can do if we have not yet forgiven someone. Just forgo revenge and treat the person as normally as you can.
We can forgive injustice toward ourselves when people address us angrily or rudely, as the Woman at the Well might have done. Instead of responding in a hostile manner, we can show forgiveness by responding in a caring way, as Jesus surely did. We might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which is not an apology but a recognition of another’s feelings.