When was it

Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not help you?  — Matthew 25:31-45

It was a raw, chilly day. Late November, maybe, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure of the year, either, although I know I was a young adult. I think I was walking alone, but even that I am not sure of.

This is what I do remember:

I was walking along the streets of midtown Manhattan. I was dressed in a wool coat, and I had a large, rectangular wool shawl wrapped around my shoulders as well. I passed another young adult, lying curled up on the sidewalk. She was half naked. Naked enough that it was clear something dreadful must have happened to her; it was far too chilly a day for anyone to be dressed that way by choice. She had a piece of something, paper maybe, pulled over her. Her eyes were closed.

And I kept walking.

I wish there was more to this story. Another ending, some information about what became of this young woman. But I have no other ending to give you, because I walked by. I assumed someone else would take care of her. But later that day I found myself haunted by that moment. I kept seeing that woman, lying on the street, shivering. And I kept seeing myself, hurrying by in extra layers of warm clothing.

Lord, when was it that we saw you naked, and did not clothe you?

Jesus tells of a day when all the people of the world come to stand before their king. The king blesses those who showed compassion on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned. The king curses those who showed no compassion.

But here is the surprising thing: Both groups – the sheep and the goats, the blessed and the cursed, the compassionate and the indifferent – both groups reply to the king with the same question:

“Lord, when was it that we saw you?”

It apparently did not occur to either group that by feeding the hungry they would be serving their king. Whether they received the king’s blessing or the king’s curse did not depend on how well they recognized their duty. It depended on how well they loved one another.

We ask, When was that it we saw you?

But Jesus asks us, When was it that you truly saw anyone?

(photo: Liza B. Knapp, all rights reserved)

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