I delivered the following remarks at Morning Prayers at Harvard this morning. The scripture passage I refer to below is Matthew 25: 31-46.
As a kid growing up in a working-class, Catholic home, I took Jesus pretty seriously—not always in the way my priests and parents would have liked, but as a pretty good role model for how we might conduct ourselves in this world. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, heal the sick and the suffering—these are not random items on some Biblical “to do” list; they are radical directives for living an intentional, moral, and just life.
We often hear people ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” For me, the answer is too often the same: not this. We all know that we live in a world full of violence and prejudice and suffering of all kinds—stains on our humanity that have been enabled by political indifference, personal ignorance, and structural inequalities in which all of us are implicated. Here in the United States and across the globe, we have far too many people who are hungry, homeless, naked, sick and suffering. As today’s scripture illustrates, Jesus was very clear about these things—after all, he spent so much of his time talking about poverty and peace, about “loving thy neighbor as thyself,” never about gay marriage or abortion or immigration or affirmative action. It is a sorry statement about our modern world that so many of us—including Christians and other people of faith—fail to embrace the better angels of our nature. As Gandhi once lamented, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
Last week, a powerful hurricane ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States—reserving its worst wrath for New Jersey, Connecticut, and my home state of New York. These kinds of storms always bring out the best and the worst in us. On the one hand, we have witnessed many of our fellow citizens, including first responders and elected officials, doing precisely the kinds of things Jesus called on all us to do: treating others as we would want to be treated, especially during a time of crisis and suffering. On the other hand, we have also seen the ugliness of the human spirit. You may have heard about Glenda Moore, a young mother from Staten Island, the borough one of my friends once jokingly—and callously—referred to as “New York’s unwanted stepchild.” At the height of the hurricane last week, Moore’s car was submerged in water as she was trying to drive her two small children—Connor and Brandon, ages 4 and 2—to a family’s place in Brooklyn. When her car was flooded, she rushed to a nearby home to ask for help. When she got to the door, her neighbors refused her, saying “I don’t know you. I’m not going to help you.” Glenda Moore, as it turns out, is black. Her neighbors are white. As the door slammed in their mother’s face, Connor and Brandon were swept away and killed by the storm, Sandy’s littlest casualties.