In a powerful YouTube video produced by a New York City-based homeless shelter called the Rescue Mission, five individuals are interviewed about relatives who are important to them.
“Nobody meets in bars anymore, but I met my wife in a bar,” says Tom. “You know, 34 years later, it’s still working!”
Alison offers a short reflection about her brother. “My whole life, I’ve always felt like we were a team – my brother and I,” she says. “I think there’s nobody who can understand you quite like your family.”
Unbeknownst to the interviewees, as they walked through the city to the studio for filming, each one passed their respective family member, posing as homeless on the street. Tom, Alison, and the three others were filmed surreptitiously as they walked right by their loved ones without a second glance.
The video producers show the hidden-camera footage to the five, and then each heads back to the street for a tearful embrace with their relative.
Text on the screen at the end of the video reads, “Change how you see the homeless.”
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
This famous line comes from one of my favorite Scripture passages, Matthew 25: 31-46. It is a foundational passage for all Life & Justice ministries, in which Jesus tells his followers that they will be judged based on how faithfully they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the ill, and visited the prisoner. What is particularly striking to me about this passage is that Jesus identifies with these vulnerable people in a one-to-one way. We are not caring for others on Christ’s behalf; we are caring for Christ. Like the Rescue Mission’s video, this passage is all about changing how we see those who are poor and vulnerable. They are not statistics or sad stories. They are our brothers and sisters; they are bearers of Christ himself.
What’s just as remarkable as the reading itself is where the Church places it in the lectionary. Once every three years, including this coming November 23, we hear this Matthew 25 story on Christ the King Sunday. On a feast day in which we celebrate the King of the Universe, we hear that we will not find him on a throne in an impenetrable castle, making proclamations from on high. Instead, our King is found on society’s peripheries, in the faces of prisoners on death row and hungry children at soup kitchens.
A few months ago, I was meeting with a newly formed social concerns coordinating committee at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Collingswood/Westmont. The group wondered when they should introduce the ministry to the parish. We decided Christ the King Sunday, with every Mass-goer hearing the Matthew 25 reading, was a perfect opportunity. Excited by the natural tie-in, the group decided to create a five-week series leading up to Christ the King, focusing on one of the conditions Jesus describes in the Matthew 25 reading each week: hungry/thirsty (October 19-25), stranger (October 26-November 1), naked (November 2-8), ill (November 9-15), and imprisoned (November 16-22). How do we see Christ in these marginalized groups of people today, and how can we journey with them? The Blessed Teresa group started to plan a handful of social ministry activities that all parishioners could participate in. We’d call it “The Matthew 25 Project.”
Their creativity inspired me. Why not invite other parishes to get involved? A number of faith communities all over the diocese decided to participate, and I’m thrilled that about a dozen parishes will be hosting over 20 events as part of the inaugural Matthew 25 Project. We have sandwich makings for social service agencies, an educational panel featuring former refugees and immigrants, meal service a homeless shelter, a communal anointing of the sick, diaper drives for Catholic Charities, and more events lined up. The complete series is open to everyone. Find activities at a parish near you by accessing a complete calendar of activities at camdendiocese.org/matthew25.
The hope of The Matthew 25 Project is similar to the Rescue Mission’s video, as these experiences can change how we see those who are poor and vulnerable and how we respond. Prayerfully consider participating in this opportunity to live our Gospel call.