I have loved Matthew 25. 31-46 for a very long time. Naturally it invokes a certain fear in me, but at the same time, that deep call to see with different eyes is an invitation that excites me. When did we see you, Lord?
I had the oddest experience on Sunday evening at mass. This couple I had never seen before sat behind me. I had been a lector so had a visible presence during the mass. At Eucharist, the man asked if his female friend could receive the host because she was not Catholic. I gave him two options–one being a blessing and one to receive if she were in need. I am not really sure why I said that but overhearing my comment, I saw tears well up in her eyes. “Come,” I invited her but she shook her head and sat down. “Really, you are welcome.” I could not change her mind. He went up for a blessing.
At the end of mass, he came up to me again and engaged me in a conversation at which point he mentioned that his friend’s mother was dying. I looked at her and saw the tears streaming from her eyes. I was tired and wanted to go home but something compelled me to stay. We chatted for a few minutes and I could see that the situation was incredibly complicated. I explained that I coordinated the bereavement ministry at the church and gave some advice that I thought would be helpful. Then she said that she was sure her mother was going to hell because she was not a believer. I had to sit down at that point. Here was a theological discussion that should have taken time and energy that I simply could not expend.
“Do you really believe in a God like that?” I heard myself ask. “I sure don’t and I don’t think you do either. The God I know is merciful and loving. Your mom is not going to hell.” I am not usually so blunt with strangers but I was compassionate and it seemed to work.
As we were wrapping up the encounter, a mentally ill woman approached us and sat down at the far end of the pew. She and I had had a fight a few months back when I was feeling exceptionally tired–now I realize that it was due to being ill–and she had not spoken to me since. The argument had been about giving her a ride home. I had agreed to do so but had put some stipulations on it. She got angry with me. As she sat there she began talking to the air, and this couple, who did not know her, followed my eye gaze and listened to her request to no one in particular to take her home because it was too cold for her to take the bus. The man asked where she lived and offered to drive her. She promised that she would get out of the car right away when she arrived at the rooming house where she stayed. She was still not looking at me. This is one of the requirements that many of us who are her regular drivers ask of her some nights because of the lateness of the hour at which the mass finishes.
I found myself sighing. I could see the first woman still was upset. I could not imagine that this would go well. The man looked at me as if for assurance that it would be ok to drop her at her destination. Suddenly, the woman looked at me and announced that her boyfriend had died last week. I was stunned. He was a man about my age. I softened. Calling her by name, I clarified using his name that he had passed away. She started telling me the story. I gently interrupted, “You can tell me about it on the way home.” The church was almost empty and the person in charge of locking up would be shooing us out the door at any minute. Rising, she thanked me by name.
I wished the first couple well and reiterated what I thought was the best plan for the woman. I invited the second woman to come along. As I stretched out in bed later, I wondered what the heck had happened in these interactions. Something had stirred deep within me. It was not until reading the Gospel this morning that I figured it out. When did I see Christ? I saw Him in the strangers visiting my church last night. I comforted Him in the women. I heard Him on the way home, when the woman said to me that I was her friend as if to erase the past few months when she had been so angry with me. I found Him despite my own weariness and illness. Somehow, Christ ministered to me in an odd way that I cannot explain. He asked me to reach out to the least of these and be reminded of how much I love to serve even when I thought I did not have the energy to do it. God is in all things, strange and wonderful.