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. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:34-46
The church sits on a busy street, between a busy intersection and a freeway interchange. Traffic counts show that somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 cars pass by each day. It is situated in a relatively prosperous neighborhood, on the boundary of two historic districts that have attracted a population that has artistic taste and a knack for preserving the architecture of the past.
It is also in close proximity to some of the poorest, most dilapidated neighborhoods in the city, and much of the traffic that passes by is on its way in or out of one of these areas. As a result, the church is seen as an island of refuge in a sea of misery. The main weekday entrance is equipped with a security camera and a system whereby the secretary can communicate with those who come to the door first, mainly as a precaution. It is a minor obstacle, however, to those who are overwhelmed by their needs.
Many of those who come to the door seeking the help of the church are among the chronically needy, unable to provide or care for themselves because of some kind of disability which includes mental illness, a criminal record, poor choices made at critical points in life, a dysfunctional family, mental or physical disability, disease, drug abuse, alcoholism or any one of a dozen other crippling circumstances. The need is great, and the repetetive, sometimes devious manner which those who plead for help use to get through the door is a symptom of the chronic nature of their problem.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you…”
Behind the door, at an assigned time every week, groups of people gather in rooms to study the Bible in which that very sentence is found and out of that study is the proclamation of a belief in the God who is described in those very words, an all knowing, all seeing, all present God who is the master of the universe. Is the connection ever made, in anyone’s mind, that God is standing at the door every time someone rings the buzzer? Does that knowledge affect what happens afterward?
We must protect our precious resources. We need to be on the lookout for scams and deceit, for people who don’t want to work for a living, and simply go from church to church collecting whatever assistance they can find because it is easy, because they know that no one will check up on them, because they can. We can’t help everyone who comes to the door, there is not enough money or resources to do that. If all we ever do for people is hand them help when they need it, they will never learn to become independent and they will never be motivated to find a job and work for a living.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
It’s an old cliche, one which we’ve used in church for a long time, and I’m not really a fan of old cliches, but this one fits. If you want to know a person’s priorities, examine their checkbook. If you want to know what a church really believes, examine its budget.