I hope this day finds you and your family well. I invite you to take a few moments with me to read and reflect upon today’s scripture selection — and to carry these thoughts with you into your day.
Today’s Scripture: Psalm 41:1-3
1 Those who pay close attention to the poor are truly happy!
The Lord rescues them during troubling times.
2 The Lord protects them and keeps them alive;
they are widely regarded throughout the land as happy people.
You[a] won’t hand them over to the will of their enemies.
3 The Lord will strengthen them when they are lying in bed, sick.
You will completely transform the place where they lie ill.
What brings happiness? The Psalmist says, “Happy are those who consider the poor.” This is central to our lives as people of faith.
Remember Jesus’ parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25_31-46). In that parable, the Lord, seated on the throne as king, addresses the righteous (who are gathered at his right hand): “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The righteous are surprised: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king answers: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The surprise for everyone is that Jesus so identifies with humans in need that when we do something for a brother or sister who is in need or when we do not do something for one in need, we do it or fail to do it to the Lord himself.
It is really that simple.
Coming near the end of the gospel as it does, Matthew uses this parable as a kind of summary of what is most important. Here we learn in a very plain parable what it means when we talk about justice, the kingdom of God, loving your neighbor, and following Jesus.
It is so simple to start with, and then Jesus gives us the list four times in just 10 verses. At the heart of it, it’s all about giving. Giving food to the hungry. Giving water to the thirsty. Welcoming the stranger. Clothing the naked. Caring for the sick. Visiting those in prison.
It’s so simple! Where else in the Bible do you see something repeated four times in 10 verses? It is as though Jesus is saying, “This is so important, I’m going to say it again!
What God wants from us is essential kindness, love of neighbor. What the righteousness, the justice of God is about is helping people who are in need. Central to the church’s mission is to go beyond our walls to reorder relationships and resources so that those on the bottom rung, the forgotten ones, are included in the blessings of creation.
The kingdom is about people helping people. It is bringing healing and harmony where there is hurt and discord.
In our Methodist tradition, these are Works of Mercy: Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Caring for the sick. Visiting the jails and prisons. Sheltering the homeless. Welcoming the stranger. Peacemaking. Acting for the common good.
This isn’t just a “Things to Do” list. These Works of Mercy are also Means of Grace — outward words and actions, to use Wesley’s words, “whereby [God] might convey to [people], [prevenient], justifying, or sanctifying grace.”
When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit jails and prisons, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger, engage in peacemaking, and act in other ways for the common good, we meet Jesus. We experience Christ. We experience the grace of God and share that grace with others. That is what brings happiness.
Thank you for sharing this moment of your day with me, with God, and with these words of scripture and reflection.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster