Pope Francis cites St. Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 25, verse 40 as he continues to link our proclamation of the Gospel to the social teachings of the Church. And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40) We immediately recognize this quotation coming from the scene in Matthew's Gospel of Jesus separating the sheep from the goats as he returns with his angels to judge the nations. As he continues the conversation with the nations, it becomes clear that the single characteristic or criterion that he is using in making this judgment is how they cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, etc.
As you have known me to write several times before, it is important to recognize that Jesus is judging "the nations." Although we tend to think of judgment in terms of personal accountability, such a notion would have been foreign to the culture of the people among whom the Gospel was written. They only saw themselves as a member of the group rather than as individuals. Culpability was a social phenomenon. Throughout the Scriptures we find examples of good people who kept God's commandments; however, it was the community as a whole which was indicted for its failure to live up to the covenant demands. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed even though there were several good people living in the midst of these people. Israel was conquered and its people carried off into captivity because the society did not conform to the prohibition against foreign gods.
There is another consideration here, however, to which we must pay attention. Jesus' judgment is solely about the nations' responsibility to take care of the poor and helpless members of society. There is no mention of sexual morality in this famous scene. Yet in our own society, it is sexual morality which most often comes to mind when we start pointing fingers at sinners. President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for his sexual escapades, not for the fact that he cut welfare benefits for the poor. Politicians of both parties usually are thrown out of office because of their sexual peccadilloes rather than for the fact that they ignore the plight of the poor. Not one banker responsible for the collapse of our economy in 2007 was ever indicted and sent to prison. As the Pope has pointed out several times, there are no headlines in our newspapers when a poor person starves to death. Yet the banners fly when the stock market loses a percentage point or two.
Last Sunday, we heard the prophet Isaiah tell us that our light would shine if we shared our bread with the poor. While "share" is an acceptable translation of the Hebrew verb in this verse, a better translation would read "when we break our bread in two." Rather than crumbs, we are to give of our substance.
Much of the rest of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation explains his rationale behind his constant stress on the plight of the poor and the oppressed peoples of our world. Unfortunately, our society would much rather that he focus his attention on other things, especially the erosion of our sexual ethics. As he hammers away at our society's lack of response to the poor, even wealthy Catholics have expressed concern and have threatened to cut off their donations to the Church. I have the distinct feeling that this kind of threat won't affect the Pope's behavior at all. One bishop has gone so far as to say that he knows that the Pope will eventually get back into the mold of the papacy to which we are accustomed. I would be surprised if this were to happen. As a man who has lived his life among the poor of Argentina, a third world country, I don't think we can expect him to adopt the thinking of the first world. Indeed, his Gospel joy does not spring from his concerns about the rich. Neither did Jesus'.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator