We are living in a time of unprecedented economic disparity between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Masses live in poverty so that a handful of people can live as they wish. The world’s three richest people own more than the combined economies of 48 countries. The average CEO in the US is making 400 times the average worker.
It is the tragedy of Christianity that the first hate crime in our constellation of texts is Matthew’s, in his telling the story of the passion. Jesus was a great teacher, an inspiring healer, and a man whose radical compassion touched everyone — women without honor, under-employed fisher folk, Roman soldiers, gentiles, Samaritans, scholarly Pharisees. The hearts of Palestinian Jews flocked to him, and this terrified the Romans. They tried to abort his movement by making his death a spectacle of cruelty and unutterable degradation.
Christians who refuse to break rank from their political tribes and social circles at the expense of refugees, immigrants, the sick, the poor, the uneducated, the maligned, and the outcast are prioritizing carnal hopes rather than divine promises.
The growing momentum behind the Matthew 25 Pledge has reminded me of my old friend and mentor, Mary Glover, who helped me understand the deepest meaning of that Gospel text. She was not a theologian or formal biblical commentator, but she showed and taught me the meaning of this Scripture more than four decades ago. Matthew 25 brought me to Christ out of the student movements of my time and led me to help begin Sojourners. We moved into one of the poorest parts of Washington, D.C., in the neighborhood where Mrs. Glover lived.
While they told Moses that, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3), in the end they turned to idols and broke God’s laws. By the time we get to First Samuel, we hear the people clamoring for an earthly king so they could be like other nations (1 Samuel 8:4-22). They thought life would be better if they shook up their system of government, so they ditched the judges and looked for an outsider. In the end, they got exactly what they asked for – a king named Saul who was wicked and moody and paranoid.
We are calling upon Christians and other people of faith to act on their faith commitment to racial justice. Volunteers will be needed all across the country to ensure that vulnerable voters know their rights, have a way to get to the polls, and even have non-violent protection in order to have the opportunity to express their constitutional right to vote. Sojourners is working with other nonpartisan groups, in partnership with lawyers and others, in training people of faith to take these very appropriate — and necessary — steps to protect these Matthew 25 voters.
As a pastor in a historically black church, Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City, and the Executive Director of Missouri Faith Voices, a PICO federation, I say this attempt to silence and disenfranchise voters is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. When I interpret Matthew 25, it is not merely about providing food, clothes, and hospitality — it is about transforming systems that have caused people to be left out.
We must remove the veil that separates the least of these and count it not robbery to give them their legal, spiritual, and constitutional right to move beyond acts of mercy, but to build power for social change. As we begin to build prudent bridges, we break the sacred-secular divide and crippling covenants the silence us. We must renounce the manifesto placed upon our communities, schools, neighborhoods that allows the rich to reap where they have not sown. We must embrace our right to vote not only as a civil right, but a Godly right. We can no longer impose predatory measures upon ourselves; we have to remove the cloak of suppression.
Days after creating a stir by saying that Donald Trump “is not Christian” because of his harsh views on immigrants, Pope Francis again took up the theme of “fake” Christians in his homily at Mass the morning of Feb. 23. Referring to the readings of the day from Isaiah and from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus warns of the judgement that awaits those who do not practice what they preach, Francis said Christians must act on their beliefs and care for the neediest — the hungry, the thirsty, and those in prison.
Pope Francis has called “unbridled capitalism” the “dung of the devil” and criticized it for doing little to help the poor.
GWEN IFILL: Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. next week is generating huge interest and expectation.
Part of that excitement is rooted in the different tone the pope has taken on a number of issues, from marriage to the role of women in the church. But he has also issued a tough critique of capitalism and called for more action on climate change.
What kind of example does the most popular leader in the world, Pope Francis, set for American political leaders who are neck deep in election campaigns?
If you are the one presidential candidate who regularly quotes Francis, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, you have been quoting Francis for some time and have regularly said that you share his views on climate change and economic injustice.
“I’m not quite as radical as the Pope is,” he smilingly told Time Magazine. “But.”
Stunning is the word that most comes to me after Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Washington, D.C. The country and the media was reveling in his presence, using language like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “wonderful” in response to this extraordinary moral leader who literally transformed our public discourse in the 48 hours he was in the nation’s capital. What these two extraordinary days mean going forward is the big question on all our hearts and minds.
At the formal welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House, a very traditional template was transformed by the “Vicar of Christ,” whose presence turned everyone’s language to one reference after another to those Christ called “the least of these” in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Never have I heard the most vulnerable being the most talked about in this city.
President Obama began the pope’s visit with these words, “What a beautiful day the Lord has made.”
Indeed. Then Pope Francis introduced himself to America as “a son of an immigrant family” who was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”
Pope Francis went straight from charging the U.S. Congress to care for the neediest to blessing and encouraging Washington’s hungry and homeless on Sept. 24.
Still, Francis, wearing his cross showing a shepherd and his flock, carried a political message along with his pastoral mission.
“The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person,” he told staff and clients of Catholic Charities, at St. Patrick’s in the City’s ministry to the needy.
AS THE SEASON turned from summer to fall, I was reflecting again about Sojourners’ vocation, the focus of our mission and ministry.
Matthew 25:31-46 is my own conversion text, the scripture that brought me to Christ a long time ago out of the radical student movement. It’s also been a converting text for many others here at Sojourners over the years.
The 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel has been foundational to Sojourners from the very beginning of the Sojourners community more than 40 years ago. But I am realizing that Matthew 25 is not only foundational for us, it is really our vocational text. In other words, it shapes not just what we believe and what we stand for, but also what we do as an organization—the issues we address, the campaigns we get involved in, the statements we sign, the coalitions we join, and much more.
In that sense, I’ve been thinking about Matthew 25 in relation to issues of organizational stewardship and sustainability. Autumn is always a busy season for me and for Sojourners. Faced with many invitations, requests, and opportunities to make a positive impact on a variety of issues, how do we decide where and how to focus our ministry, energy, staff, time, and gifts? How do we be good stewards of our calling? I think that Matthew 25:31-46 provides the answer. The key moment in the passage is when Jesus says:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me ... Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
The pope’s teachings and his deeds have inspired people to put aside their differences and to work together for a common good. We hope that this momentum will carry over to the debates on immigration. We must work together push back against the hateful anti-immigrant messaging coming from some of our elected officials and candidates for office, and draw on the moral high ground we find in our faith and Scriptures. Including Matthew 25.
Beyond the need for broad-based legislative reform, ordinary people and communities of faith in the United States can also make a difference on an individual and family level. Just as the pope has called on European Catholic churches to “welcome the stranger” in their own parishes and homes, American churches, synagogues, mosques, and even individual homes should take up that challenge as well. It’s time for people in the United States and Europe to learn what it really means to welcome the stranger.
I love Thanksgiving.
I love the food, the fellowship, the friends and family, the football, and did I mention that I love the food. Unashamedly it might very well be my favorite holiday. Yet, despite all my warm feelings about Thanksgiving, I am not blind to its historical shortcomings.
As Jane Kamensky says, “…holidays say much less about who we really were in some specific Then, than about who we want to be in an ever changing Now.” I think she’s right about this. In so many cases, our national celebrations and observances are mere expressions of our collective aspirations and not our actuality. One clear example of this is the history and practice of the Thanksgiving holiday.
As it goes, every year people throughout this nation gather for a commemorative feast of sorts where we give praises to God for the individual and collective blessings bestowed upon us. This tradition goes back to the 17th century when the New England colonists, also known as pilgrims, celebrated their first harvest in the New World.
On the surface, this seems harmless enough but a closer reading of history tells a more dubious story.
What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?
Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”
Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.
Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.
Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.
This new hymn is inspired by the crisis in Central America that has caused over 70,000 children to take the dangerous journey to the United States in recent months. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras for the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that Carolyn sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there.
The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.
“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, California. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?" Biblical references in the hymn are Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 19:14-16.