August 18, 2014 by Alex Johannigman
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, RSV)
This was one of a handful of verses that compelled me to seek out ways to serve those in greatest need 2 years ago, just before hearing about Christ in the City for the first time. Jesus’ words here make me really uncomfortable, because I always believe that there is more that I can be doing to give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner. So when the mission of Christ in the City was first explained to me by a former missionary, I thought to myself “That is so great that she was able to go out and serve Christ by serving those people in greatest need.”
This attitude is absolutely needed more in our world today. How often do we each, myself included, walk past someone who is begging for money or food, and try our best to make it seem like we didn’t even notice them? But how often would we do the same thing if we saw Jesus Christ begging for help on the street corner? And that’s the whole point of the parable. We need to think of the poor in the same way that we think of Christ and the same way that we hope others would think of us- as unique and valuable individuals worthy of respect and love.
Something that I learned while I was a missionary is that the name “Christ in the City” has two meanings. First, it means serving Christ by serving the hungry, thirsty, and lonely men and women living in poverty on the streets of Denver. But it also means that we are the hands and feet of Christ and representatives of Christ’s Church to the people of the world. And that’s a calling not just for the few missionaries that serve in that particular program each year, but a calling for ALL baptized Christians. We all need to remember who we serve and who people associate us with, and model our service off of how Christ would serve those whom we encounter if he was in our shoes (because he is. Thanks Holy Spirit.)
It’s no secret that there are a lot of bad representatives of Christianity in America, from the Westboro Baptist Church and their hate-inspired protests to mega-church pastors who spend millions on private jets and luxurious homes for themselves to individuals like you and me who fail to live up to Christ’s challenging demands for our lives. The biggest problem that Christianity has faced since Jesus’ resurrection was that a perfect God left a bunch of imperfect, sinful people to continue the work of his Church, which to this day still strikes me as a really bad idea, even if the God of all creation made it.
Many of us who spend a lot of time on social media have probably been made even more aware of the bad impressions that people get of Christianity after reading the recent editorial by Samantha Pugsley about her experience growing up in a culture that told her that sex is dirty and bad, which led to a lot of problems in her life before and after marriage. Unfortunately, I’m sure that story will get exponentially more views than responses like this one by Arleen Spencely about what Christianity, or at least Catholicism specifically, teaches about sex and how it is NOT what Mrs. Pugsley was taught as a child.
I say that to show that the Church needs more holy people who are using Jesus Christ as their role model for how they interact with others. Many people on the streets (and in the world at large) don’t know about Jesus, or have only heard a deeply flawed version of the gospel, which is why we need to be going out there to share Christ’s love with them firsthand. We may be the only ones who ever encounter them in that way.
So here’s my third “Moral of the Story” from my year as a missionary to the homeless- We need to serve the poor and treat them as we would treat Christ, but to do that we also need to model the love that we show them off of the love that Christ showed everyone whom he served during his human life on earth.