Seeing God in Others

An ancient legend tells of a mighty king who had no son, and thus, no heir to the throne. The king sent out couriers to all the towns of his kingdom to post signs which invited any qualified young man to come and interview as a possible successor to the throne. There were only two qualifications – the man had to truly love the king and to truly love His fellow man.

A very faithful and devout lad lived in one of the towns, and happened to see this sign of the king. This humble, poor young man surely loved his king, and always was doing good for others. Still, he didn’t think himself worthy to go for an interview with the king until many of the people he constantly helped day in and day out convinced him to go to the castle and interview with the king. Still, he had one problem– he was so poor that he didn’t have any clothes fit to meet a king, and he had no money or provisions for the journey to the castle. Day after day, the young man begged here and borrowed there, slowly collecting enough money to buy appropriate clothing and the necessary supplies for the trip.

Properly attired and well suited, the young man started off on his journey. At almost the end of his journey, though, he came across this poor, old beggar, clothed only in tattered rags. The beggar called out in desperation to the traveler, “Please help a poor man. I have no food, and am freezing in the cold. In honor of the king, please help me.”

The young man was so moved by the beggar’s need, that he immediately stripped off his new clothes and traded them with the beggar for his rags. He then gave the beggar all his provisions, without a second thought for how he would make the return trip.

After leaving the beggar, he hesitantly continued his journey towards the king’s palace, unsure whether to even go in, since he was now dressed in rags. When he arrived, however,  an attendant showed him into the great hall. Here, dressed in the beggar’s rags, he came before the mighty king and bowed low before his majesty. When he raised his eyes, he gasped aloud at who he saw. “You?!? Bu.. Bu… but you’re the beggar on the street!”

“Yes!” the king replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “I was the beggar because I wanted to see who of the young men coming to my interview truly loved their fellow man in need as much as they claimed to love the king! Of course, everyone who comes to my palace and sees me in all my power and glory will proclaim love and loyalty to me as their king. But very few people treat the poor beggars the same way they claim to treat the king. Your actions today show me that you truly do love your king, as well as your fellow man!”

Our Lord Jesus teaches the same lesson in today’s Gospel reading of the Last Judgment. “Come you who are blessed by my Father. For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me.”

Both those saved and those condemned looked perplexed, asking the same question. “When, Lord, did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison or sick?” And to this Jesus replied, “whenever you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Love for God and love for our neighbor represent a united love. We can’t separate our love for God from our love for others. If we don’t love our neighbor, and care for him just as we would care for our Lord, than we truly can’t claim to have authentic love for God.

Here is the heart of the Gospel, and of all the teachings of Jesus Christ. We know that the greatest commandments are to love God and love one another, but today we realize that such love can never be simple theory. Instead the two loves are intertwined in concrete actions. In fact, through these actions we come to understand that love for God and love for the other are one and the same, precisely because God lives within each person. We can see God’s divine image in each person, IF we look carefully enough.

I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was alone in prison, and in the hospital, and you visited me. Come you who are blessed by my Father. For whatever you did for one of these least of my brothers or sisters, you did for me.

What is so intriguing here is that according to this passage, we will not be judged by our number of prayers, our Church attendance, our ability to fast, or by following some other religious regulations, but we will be judged by one factor – our ability to love in a concrete, yet simple manner. And no person, no matter how poor they are, can find an excuse for not fulfilling this command.

Christ doesn’t say, “You didn’t solve the world problems of hunger,” but “I was hungry and you fed me.” Jesus didn’t say, “You didn’t heal me from my illnesses,” but “I was sick and you visited me.” And he didn’t complain, “I was in prison and you didn’t free me.” No, instead, he judges us because we didn’t do what was within our ability – a simple visit of love.

God waits, and seeks for us to do little acts, but with great love! Small acts, but with extraordinary love. That is our call as Christians!

And remember, no where do we see God telling us to offer love to only those who deserve it. It doesn’t depend on us to analyze and determine whether we should help the other – our acts of love need to be spontaneous acts springing from a heart full of the love of God! We don’t need to judge why one is in prison, why one is hungry, why one is naked. Maybe they made some mistakes in their lives, and one day they will have to give an account before Christ for themselves. But we also will be judged for what we know God expects from us, and for our inability to fulfill His commandments.

As we Orthodox around the world prepare for the great journey of Lent which begins February 23 - a journey that partially begins today on MEATFARE SUNDAY (from today we no longer eat meat) - let us remember one of the most crucial elements of our Lenten Journey. Sure, fasting, self-discipline, and ascesis are important tools needed to help us prepare for our destination of Pascha, but today’s Gospel lesson clearly portrays not the means, but the essence of what we are called to do and be. Let us use these tools of the Lenten season – fasting, discipline, ascesis – to help us cultivate more the essence of our faith – concrete love through simple actions to all people!

Mother Maria, an Orthodox nun who helped many destitute and needy people in Paris during WWII, including many Jews, was herself arrested and imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps because of her actions. Before she died, she clearly stated what she had lived, “At the last judgment I shall not be asked if I was successful in my ascetic exercises or how many prostrations I made in the course of my prayers.  I shall be asked one thing – did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners: that is all I shall be asked.”

“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world… For inasmuch as you did it to one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

 

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