"When did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” (Matt 25:45).
Jesus fulfills the 10 commandments by taking them beyond law and order to unconditional love.
The original commandments given to Moses affirmed the need for right relationships in the community. Based on the golden rule, they preserved mutual self-interest: Treat others the way you want to be treated and society will run smoothly and fairly.
But Jesus invites his disciples to the next level, to show concern for the weakest members of the community. Give freely to those who cannot repay you, and thus you will imitate the heavenly Father, whose unconditional love is poured out on everyone.
It is perhaps not surprising that at the judgment, many law-abiding people are surprised. They thought they had met all their obligations under the commandments. Those who speak of the “deserving poor” or “welfare to work” to justify limiting help as a form of “tough love” that promotes “self-help” are using language that blames those in need and excuses the self-sufficient from feeling compassion for them.
The Corporal Works of Mercy, like the Beatitudes, call us beyond logic to a place of paradox, where God lies hidden in the raw desperation of the poor, those whose immediate circumstances render them unable to help themselves or to pay you back; the hungry, thirsty, naked, the alien, those sick or in prison. God waits in these least ones, whom Jesus calls our brothers and sisters.
It was often said that there is no salvation outside the church. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that there is no salvation outside the poor. Our response to them, when all is revealed, will be the measure of our own relationship with God. It is bracing challenge, but one we must grapple with and respond to as disciples. Lent is a good time to take this challenge into prayer.