Many of the Church’s great saints were soldiers. Such a one was Saint Martin of Tours.
Young Martin joined the Roman army at the age of nineteen. Unlike other soldiers his age, he was a sensitive and spiritual man. He was drawn to the teaching of Jesus and inspired by the lives of the Christians he knew, but he was never baptized.
One day he was standing guard by a city gate when he noticed a beggar who was shivering in the cold. Martin took his sword, cut his cloak in half and gave it to the beggar. That night, he had a dream in which Jesus appeared to him wearing the cloak he had given the beggar. In the dream, Jesus was telling his angels, “This is Martin who shared his cloak with me.” When he woke up the next morning, he arranged to be baptized, left the army and dedicated his life to serving the poor and defending the Christian faith.
Saint Martin experienced the promise that Christ makes in today’s gospel. Whatever we do for the poor, for the hungry, for the suffering we do for Jesus. At the same time, whenever we turn our back on those who need our help, we are turning our back on Jesus.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We know that earthly rulers live in splendid palaces and wear the finest clothes. They move in the circles of the wealthy and powerful. But Jesus is a different kind of King. Though He is almighty and can do whatever He wills, He chooses to associate Himself with the poor, the meek and the humble. Whereas we can expect to find earthly kings in palaces, we can expect to find Christ the King in factories, in slums and in soup kitchens.
If Jesus seems distant from us, if we have had trouble finding Him in our lives and wondered if He is really present among us, maybe we have been looking in the wrong place. If we really want to meet Jesus and get to know Him, perhaps we need to find Him among the people He so strongly identifies with. Maybe we need to break out of our circle of friends and acquaintances and take the risk of going out to the homeless shelters, the hospitals, the prisons and the soup kitchens where we will encounter a Savior who makes His home with the poor. If we want to take our spiritual life to another level and deepen our relationship with Jesus, that might be just the thing that God is calling us to do.
Of course, poverty comes in many forms. Many times people with plenty of food and enough money can be poor in other ways. They may find themselves isolated and lonely. They may be caught in addictions and harmful habits. Or they may feel lost with no direction and no meaning in their lives. Jesus also identifies with these spiritually poor people as well. So besides feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, we are also called to pray for those who have died, comfort those who mourn, counsel those who are confused, and teach those who are in error. If we love Jesus and desire to serve Him, we must be ready to provide for the needs of others no matter what those needs are. We do that also with trust that if God puts a needy person in our path He will also provide us with what we need to help him or her.
Jesus’ words in today’s gospel also mean that we have to start looking at people in a different way. Too many times as a society and as a nation, we talk about the poor, the unemployed and the immigrant as a problem to be solved. Often they become scapegoats for society’s other problems. This is particularly true of immigrants. But people are never problems to be solved. Rather they are individuals whom we must love. Most importantly, they are Jesus in disguise. And we will be judged by how we treat them both as individuals and as a nation.
We are always asking for God’s blessing, and it is a good thing that we do. Could it be, however, that God’s blessing comes to us through the needy people who cross our path everyday? Could we begin to change our outlook to such a degree that we see the homeless person on the corner, the beggar in the middle of the street and our lonely relative as God’s blessing in disguise? Rather than feeling inconvenienced or put out by those who ask for our help, could we see ourselves being blessed by them instead?
Can we also change the way that we look at our possessions? Are they for our use alone, or are they given to us by God to share with others? Could we ever consider doing without so that we could share more of our goods with the poor? Could we ever consider sacrificing one of our most precious commodities, our time, to visit someone who is lonely and could use a little of our attention? What might not seem like much to us could make a world of difference to someone in need. And we will find ourselves being immeasurably blessed in return. We may come to see and know Christ in a way we never did before.
Jesus is in our midst, but He is hidden among the poor. One day He will come in glory. Then there will be no doubt that He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Everyone will have to acknowledge Him and bend the knee before Him. And each of us will be judged not just on how often we went to Church and not just on what Church we belonged to but on how we served Jesus in the poor and needy in our midst. Jesus has already revealed to us what the questions on the test will be. He has also provided us with His word to guide us and His sacraments to strengthen us. There will be no excuse for us if we fail to live up to His expectations. At the same time, there will be untold blessings for us if we serve Him in every needy person we meet along the way.