Kingship and ordinary care

Today’s readings for the Sunday liturgy are about Christ as King. One might expect them to focus on God’s power, omnipotence, or authority, but the emphasis is on God’s care. In Matthew 25, Jesus emphasizes what God’s real concerns are: that we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and welcome the stranger. God’s love is for those who are marginalized, and our love should follow God’s lead here.

Jesus says that God will reward those who enact God’s love to those in need. An interesting feature of the Gospel is that those doing good are not even aware that they have done this for Jesus. Jesus says that they will say, “When did we see you hungry, thirst, naked, or imprisoned?” Something we can see pretty clearly about those who are enacting love in this world well is that they are not doing it for the reward. They are not enacting love out of an external sense of obligation, imposed upon them. They are maybe not even doing it because they recognize Jesus in the poor or marginalized, because Jesus says that they will be surprised by the revelation that Jesus was there. So we are left with the realization that their motive isn’t reward or even obedience per se. Rather, the motive for acting well is the genuine care for the person in need. If I see hunger, and I have the means to help to alleviate it, I should help. I should want to help because that person’s need itself motivates me.

Jesus is speaking to a kind of purity of heart for which we should aim: eschewing power and honor, in favor of ordinary care, and letting go of rewards and punishments in favor of doing what is loving for its own sake, regardless of its consequences. The irony is that Jesus says, this is also the most rewarding place to be. In showing love for those in need, we will find reward. In meeting those at the margins, we will meet Jesus himself.