The interests of the wealthy Western world are often at odds with the interests of the majority of peoples on our planet. We have an unjust global trading system, we have nations so burdened by debt that it suffocates any chance of recovery, we have trade surpluses from wealthy countries dumped in the third world destroying the livelihoods of local producers. We have inefficient and ineffective aid arrangements and are still far from finding an acceptable global position on climate change. … The cards are stacked against the poor – the poor get poorer while the rich line their pockets.
And we are part of the system which makes this happen – we elect the leaders that make these decisions. I wonder what you might want to say to leaders of the most wealthy countries in the world, if you had the chance? If you=d been invited to speak at the latest G7 or G8 meeting what would you have said were the priorities for our world? What would Jesus want to say to them?
“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
This verse at the end of Matthew 10 points forward to a later story in the gospel of Matthew – in Matthew 25 – the story of the sheep and the goats.
In that story, Jesus welcomes the sheep into the kingdom and he 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, naked and you clothed me.”
“When was that, Lord,” the righteous reply. Jesus response: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
When you gave money to Christian Aid to provide shelter, clean water and good food, you did it to me. When you gave money to Oxfam to help people begin to stand on their own two feet, you did it to me. When, at Harvest, you gave money for a water tank in Kisoro in Uganda, (as did the churches of the Parish of the Good Shepherd, a year or two back), you did it for me. When you welcomed the immigrant and the asylum seeker into the life of your church, you welcomed me, or even just the newcomer who did not know anyone. When you fought for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed, you fought for me. When you understood and acted on the pressing climate issues which faced the world, you did it for me.
Sadly, the story in Matthew 25 also tells of those who did not give and share, who did not welcome the stranger – and Jesus is just as clear that their failure to act for those who were marginalised, hungry, thirsty and hurting was a failure to serve him. And in the story they receive not a blessing but a curse.
So what can we do to fulfil our Lord’s commission to us?
The very least we can do is be welcoming to all who are new. In our churches, when we are able once again to attend, that will mean watching out for those who are new and taking time to be with them to welcome them over coffee at the end of the service. And in doing so, we will welcome the stranger in our midst – particularly the asylum seeker and the immigrant. We can choose to set aside our embarrassment, perhaps our fears and prejudices and commit ourselves to friendship and love.
We could write to our leaders, and to our MP, and tell them of our concern for the poor and the dispossessed and demand that they use our resources, our taxes, to bring about justice in our world.
We can begin to buy or continue to buy produce which has been fairly traded. This seems to me to be a no-brainer. … Wherever possible we can choose goods in our supermarkets that guarantee not to have been bought at unfairly low prices. We cannot continue to exploit others in our world just so that we can get our bananas, our coffee, our tea, our sugar, our chocolate a few pence cheaper. We are committed as churches in our parish, for all church functions, to only using fairly-traded coffee and tea (I wonder if we are sticking to that promise?) And we have promised that we will do everything we can to fight for justice for the whole world – even if that means a little extra expense for ourselves. And that is a big commitment: we have agreed to fight injustice in whatever form we encounter it, financial, racial, climate or ……… And we know that this is one of the Marks of Mission to which all Anglican Church assent.
Jesus doesn’t give us the option. The reward he mentions in our Gospel reading, the reward of the righteous, is not a reward given to pious and holy people who go to Church, it is a reward give to those who follow Jesus, who live according to his values, who give of themselves to others in just the same way as Jesus would have done.
It is enough, at least at first, to take just one small step in the right direction: just talking to the stranger in church on a Sunday morning; just setting up a standing order to Christian Aid, Oxfam or Tear Fund; even just giving a cup of water to someone in need, says Jesus is a start down the road. Just one small step, but it is a step down a route which places others needs on a par with our own. And it is the same road that Jesus travelled – a road which ultimately runs through the cross and on into resurrection.
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these,” says Jesus, “You did it to me.”
…. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones …….. truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”