November 2, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s good news for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a long reading from Matthew 25:31-46.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
It’s interesting that this follows the parable of the talents. God entrusts each of us with certain gifts to be used to bring about His kingdom on earth. Some use those gifts to make the world a better place for those around them and others fail to do anything. The righteous, as Jesus calls them here, don’t think of their acts of compassion as anything unusual. They treat others from the goodness of the hearts with a generosity that they don’t measure. It is not a matter of how much they give of give of themselves; it’s a matter of the depth of their hearts from which they give. Compassion is the gift of love for another, a participation in another’s suffering. This is the story of the Samaritan and the Levite.
It reminds me of Lou Pozez who founded Payless ShoeSource (then called Volume Shoe) with his cousin Shaol. They had grown up in the ghetto of Warsaw in a family that had little like the most of the other families in the Jewish ghetto. But whatever little extra they had they put out for others to take — sometimes food, sometimes an outgrown shirt. And sometimes his family was the beneficiary of someone else’s kind generosity. Lou told me that when he arrived in America and started his first job, he swore an oath to God that he would give half of what he earned to those less fortunate. He always kept his word and was incredibly generous to many organizations and people. He remained a humble man and never sought recognition; in fact, he often refused to be singled out for his generosity. He and Shaol create a large, successful company employing thousands of people and supporting projects to improve the community. He employed well the gifts that God had given him. He became a rich man, not counted by his assets so much as the lives of people he touched. If I am certain of anything, it’s that he was blessed by God and has inherited the kingdom that awaits all of the righteous.
I wrote yesterday about John the Baptist as a role model for Jesus. Lou was one of my role models. He was one of those who could not be outdone in generosity. That’s what I aspire to and remind myself of every time I’m inclined to hold on to what I have instead of sharing it with others in more need. A long time ago I developed a practice that I fall into frequently. Sometimes service in a restaurant is not as good as it could be. When it comes time to pay the check and add a tip, my first inclination invariably is a quick assessment of whether the person really earned it or how much I think he or she deserved. But then I ask myself, does this person need this more than me? I always have to answer “yes,” so I give the same 18-20% to the one who gives poor service as to the one who gives outstanding service (sometimes a little more, though). It could be the person wasn’t properly trained; maybe he was especially tired after staying up late studying for an exam; maybe he was worried about a the health of a family member.
I just don’t know the whole story. I think that’s what Jesus is saying. Be kind and compassionate to everyone; you don’t know the whole story. Give generously from your heart and your heavenly Father will likewise bless you and open the doors of His heavenly kingdom. We all are in need of His mercy.