A few days ago, I was at the Tysons Corner Center shopping mall. (The non-use of apostrophes in place names here in northern Virginia is an interesting local custom, that seems to defy explanation.)
Worn out from walking around, I took a break, sitting on one of the many benches. Before long, I noticed a ragtag bunch of people gathering nearby. They were all dressed in blue uniforms, and many of them were carrying musical instrument cases. They were followed by dozens of children, decked out in Christmas theme garb. It was the Salvation Army Band, and they were going to perform some carols.
I did a quick visual survey of the group. The band members ranged in age from early twenties to late sixties, and covered several ethnic groups. There were slightly more men than women. And, if they did share one characteristic, it was stated long ago by Isaiah (53:2)…
There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.
These were ordinary people volunteering to help the less fortunate, and in this case, that probably included some of the kids in their own choir. So here we were: in the midst of hundreds of people spending thousands of dollars in dozens of stores was simple charity. Did it matter at that moment that their band fulfilled the stereotype with its typically muddy sound, or that I may not completely agree with the theology of their organization? Hardly.
How good it was to experience a tradition in an era that would just as soon abandon most of them. How gratifying it was that many shoppers stopped to watch the group, taking some time away from the mad rush of the holidays. Could it be that for this brief time, all of us there were reminded of the reason for the season?
Speaking of which, 2005 is one of those years whereby the civil holiday of Thanksgiving coincides with the end of the Church’s liturgical year. The mass readings for this period are concerned with such matters as end times and the final judgment. Perhaps the most familiar is the passage from Matthew (25:31-46), in which the righteous are separated from the accursed, based on them performing the so-called corporal works of mercy…
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.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”
And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Note that at least some of these works cannot be delegated, and the definite implication is that the “blessed” have to be hands-on. Note further that one is not blessed by merely TALKING about these good works, as happens so often with politicians—usually those of the liberal stripe. Nor is one blessed by engaging in flagrantly obvious photo-opp situations, where the face time with the unwashed needy is quite limited—a practice favored by entertainment types.
We are admonished, urgently, to care about our fellow man, as the accursed answer back…
“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”
He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
A sobering thought for this festive season.