Whatever you do unto the least of these you do also unto me."
These are some of the last reported words of Jesus before he was crucified. They are found in Matthew 25, perhaps my favorite chapter in the Bible. This verse is one of my life verses that I append to every email I send.
If you read the 25th chapter you will find the passage that contains these words. Jesus is very blunt and clear in his promise. There will come a day of judgment for all of us, whether we believe Jesus is who he says he was or not. He will separate us into sheep and goats. The sheep are those who took care of the sick, those who visited the incarcerated, those who clothed the naked, gave drink to the thirsty and those who fed the hungry. These blessed sheep cared for the least of us and thus did unto Him. All Jesus was telling us was to be like him because this is how he lived his life. He never had concerns for himself. He taught us to love one another unconditionally. He sought out the underprivileged, the scorned, the second class citizens, the prostitutes, those who had the worst diseases, and those that were difficult to love.
For those who did not love as he commanded, to do unto others and love as you would love Him, he called them goats and judgment will not be good for goats. The goats will face His judgment. Whatever we do not do unto the least of these we also don't "do unto Him."
I have been thinking about this passage in the Bible as I have watched recent events unfold. It seems to me that there is a lot of hatred for the poor. The rhetoric is harsh and unkindly to what must be described as the least of these.
I understand the rationale for the rhetoric. Why should we feed and house those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and those who seem fit to work? Some abuse the social services and are hopelessly stuck in the cycle of poverty. I understand the frustration.
Yet I also understand the perspective of the impoverished. There is little incentive to work when wages are ridiculously low and they have no skills. Childcare and transportation are huge issues. If you work 40 hours a week at minimum wage, you are still poor. Former Vice President Cheney ridiculed the President last week and said that the President cares more about food stamps than he does the military, only to discover that 900,000 military families are using food stamps.
Cheney's comment is typical of the harsh rhetoric.
So the politicians yield to the harsh words and cut food stamps and nutritional programs. They refuse to establish Medicaid programs, so the poor are denied basic health services. They refuse to fund early childhood education programs, which have proven to be critical to breaking the cycle of poverty. They refuse to fully fund public education under a formula for funding they have created. Social service programs have become public enemy No. 1. And at the same time they want to cut the taxes of those who do not need tax cuts in the quest for trickle down economics that have failed us miserably. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and we don't care.
We continue to elect the same people who lust after special interest political contributions. And the courts used to protect us , but now they hand down ridiculous decisions that declare that corporations have First Amendment rights so they can fund political campaigns and buy politicians like they are some priceless jewels. Thomas Jefferson must be spinning in his grave at such absurdity.
There are few stories of courage in Washington D.C. or Jefferson City because too many have sold their souls. The voices of the courageous have been drowned out by the sounds of the political slot machines that are fed with ridiculous sums of money by those who don't love anyone but themselves and those that think like they do.
I fear for the goats and pray that I am not one of them. I await the hateful response that is sure to come. Yet while I understand the rhetoric I cannot justify it with the words of Jesus. I am not Catholic but I adore the new Pope. He is saddened by the lack of justice in the world.
The justice he speaks of is not handed out in the courts of our nation, but in the soup kitchens, the prisons, the homeless shelters and those few churches who love all of their neighbors. We can render justice now or receive it from the Son of Man another day.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.