I spent the last few days officiating a swim meet. As an official, I must judge the efforts of the swimmers, disqualifying the ones who do not follow the rules. Often when I observe my daughters’ swim practice, I see swimmers taking shortcuts and breaking the rules. Most of these same swimmers also break the same rules during swim meets, despite their efforts to swim clean races. Is there a connection? I believe so.
Swimming – and living – is much more about habit than it is about chance or revelation. The habits we allow ourselves to acquire on our normal days propel us through the extraordinary ones. At a time of stress – such as during an exciting race – these habits either carry us through to a good finish, or subject us to harsh consequences.
This is what I believe Jesus is speaking about in today’s Gospel.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink . . .”
Jesus is reminding us to pay careful attention to how we attend to the little things that occur during our normal day-to-day lives. Those are the times when we develop and solidify our spiritual habits. If we are not following the rules in the small things, how can we expect to have the courage to follow the rules when the stakes are higher?
The poor will always be with us. Most of us cannot make the slightest dent in the problem of poverty with our meager resources. However, we can do what today’s passage from Leviticus urges us to do: “Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly.”
It’s easy to find the motivation to serve Jesus, once we have identified Him. Can we motivate ourselves to treat the beggar on the street corner with the same respect that we would surely offer to Jesus? This might mean buying the person a sandwich, if the occasion arises and it is safe and appropriate to do so. It might mean taking a moment to explain that you cannot help today but you wish the person well. It may mean just eye contact and a smile.
Our day-to-day encounters with the poor are opportunities for us to practice for that day when we have a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. If we have developed the right habits – those based on compassion, respect, and generosity – then we will have nothing to fear.
And . . . we might just discover – as Mother Teresa of Calcutta did – that we have been serving Jesus all along.
So today, let’s take a little time to examine our habits. Put the face of Jesus on the “least” of the people we encounter, and see if our habitual tendency is to feed Him or to starve Him, to clothe Him or to ridicule Him, to comfort Him or to provoke Him. If our habits are not to our liking, there is no better day than today to start new ones!
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