One important objective for living a Christian life, Jesus summarizes in this verse from Matthew’s Gospel:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. …You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37, 39).
Jesus’ whole life was an example of how one loves God and neighbor with their entire being. The Ten Commandments lay the foundation for how we are to love God and neighbor. But Jesus implores us to go even further. Michel Remery, in Tweeting with God, explains that Jesus “also gave us the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and a sermon about the Last Judgment, when he will say to us: ‘What you did or refused to do for others, you did or refused to do for me’ (Matthew 25:31-46). The Church has summed up the charity asked of us by Jesus in the Works of Mercy.”
The Works of Mercy, therefore, are examples of how we are to love our neighbor as our Lord has called each of us to do. St. John tells us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This commandment we have from him — whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).
Our love of God, therefore, is expressed in our love of neighbor. Or, put another way, loving our neighbor demonstrates that we love God. St. James also challenges us to recognize the needs of the people before us: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
God calls His people to participate in these works of mercy, even in Old Testament times. Jesus confirms that His followers must continue to express a love of neighbor by meeting these needs of people. Jesus is mandating care for all people in His name. He is reminding us that whatever we do for the least, we are also doing it for Him. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, “Christ has no hands now but ours.”
Since we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church (Ephesians 1:22), we go out into the world and make Him present. We are to go out and serve not only the poorest of the poor, as Blessed Mother Teresa entreats us, but our neighbor as well, the people who are closest to us. In other words, we are called to serve everyone, wherever we see a need that is spiritual or corporal.
The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes explained that all people are our neighbor:
In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40) (Gaudium et Spes 27).
This passage is worthwhile for us today. First, it continues a theme that Jesus taught us by the Parable of the Good Samaritan: All people are our neighbors (cf. Luke 10:29-37). Secondly, this passage from Gaudium et Spes makes the point that we are to care for people when they come across our path. There are likely people we come into contact with who have corporal or spiritual needs, proving the opportunity to utilize the many gifts bestowed on us to help others.
Do I seek to care for the spiritual or corporal needs of others? Do I neglect the needs of the people whom I may never meet or even those who cross my path every day?
Copyright 2020 Allison Gingras