Exodus 28:1-43 & Matthew 25:31-26:13 & Proverbs 8:12,13
“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of he least of my brothers and sisters you were doing it to me.”
This passage has been the Church’s rationale for the countless humanitarian acts throughout the world and throughout history. Mother Teresa said of the outcasts that she cared for as they died in her arms, “They are Jesus in distressing disguise.” Compassion however must be balanced with wisdom. This is not a call to help people who are able but unwilling to help themselves. St. Paul who worked to the point of exhaustion in helping others also warned against idleness and said, “If anyone is unwilling to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess 6-13). I have not always struck the right balance. I know that over the years that I have helped a few con artists but I’d rather be guilty of helping the wrong person than of missing Jesus in distressing disguise.
It is interesting that on the heels of this call to care for the least, comes the story of the woman with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus. The disciples objected that it could have been sold to care for the poor. No doubt they thought that they would receive high marks for applying what Jesus had just taught them. Likely to their surprise, Jesus did not agree with their assessment. The poor were always going to be among them but not Jesus, so in coming to symbolically prepare Him for burial, she did the right thing. I can imagine Peter scratching his head and saying, “But didn’t you just tell us to care………….. oh never mind.”
These two stories back to back answer a false dichotomy that is prevalent. Many times I have heard people object to building beautiful churches or fitting them with beautiful appointments because that money could be used for the poor. But why must it be an either/or proposition? We can both care for the poor and build structures to the glory and worship of God. We can do it for the least of these and we can anoint Jesus. God ordained vestments for the priests in this reading from Exodus to be made of gold and engraved stones. They make what I wear look like it came from the Good Will and yet it is hard to believe that there were no poor among the nomadic tribes in that day. We do not have to chose between helping others and the worship of God. In fact the latter automatically leads to the former. It is gathering as a worshipping community that we are able to pool our resources and help others far more than if we did it as individual families. St. Patrick’s has a beautiful small chapel in which to worship God and we have helped care for at least 300 Burmese refugees, give regularly to the Food Bank and raise money annually for the Pregnancy Support Center. The Kasch family could not have pulled that off but St. Patrick’s family can and does.
“I wisdom live together with good judgment” Prov 8:12
Wisdom is knowing that a tomato is a fruit not a vegetable. Good judgment is not putting it on your cereal.