This past summer I was working as a hospital chaplain. As part of this group, my three other peers along with a supervisor would meet daily. Many times our daily conversations evolved into theological discussions. One day we were discussing the commands of Jesus in relationship to our hospital and future parish ministry. In reference to Matthew 25, I stated that Christ was present in those we served in the hospital, for when we helped someone who was hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and assisted them, we did it for Jesus who stated that this was the measure on which we would be judged (Mt. 25:44-46). One of my peers, responding to my statement, said, “Well it depends if you are a Matthew 25 Christian or a Matthew 28 Christian.” (Matthew 28:19-20 being the missionary mandate of Jesus to go forth and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus had commanded them).
I found that to be a very intriguing statement and as I have mulled over that comment by my peer, I thought naturally, as a Catholic, “Why can’t this be a both/and situation? Why does Matthew 25 and 28 have to be in tension with one another? This perhaps, best exemplifies the tension between social justice and evangelization. That somehow these are two different competitive factions in the Church. Why not both/and, in fact, are not both interconnected? I think we can look to two different examples as a case study to see the unification of Matthew 25 and 28.
In Matthew 25, Jesus explains the judgment of the world by ministering to the destitute and marginalized. Couple this with evangelization and I think we can see quite clearly that our new Holy Father has truly encompassed both! Pope Francis has visited prisoners, Aids patients, and has gone into the slums of Brazil. He has expressed his love and concern for the poor, and because of this expression, the news media followed him wherever he went and never stopped talking about it. When Pope Francis speaks or acts, CNN, Fox News and all the other news outlets listen. Simply by living the gospel message of concern for the marginalized, simply by witnessing Christian charity, the world has watched, listened, and has been evangelized. Pope Francis has made disciples of all nations.
Secondly, we can turn to Adele Brise, affectionately known at the end of her life as Sister Adele. Adele’s life was changed on October 9, 1859 when Our Lady appeared to her and entrusted to her a mission of prayer for the conversion of sinners and catechesis of young people. With Adele Brise, evangelization and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy meet; Matthew 25 and 28 are united. She instructed the ignorant and admonished sinners. She bore wrongs patiently and prayed for the living and the dead. Furthermore, at the end of her life she instructed a friend of hers, Josie, to “Be kind to the sick and the old, and continue to instruct the children in their religion as I have done.” She handed the mission in her life, the nourishing of souls both spiritually and physically, on to others. Many of the students who came to St. Mary’s Boarding Academy were sick, poor, and orphaned. Adele welcomed them with open arms, caring for their physical needs while at the same time instructing them in the ways of the Lord. By her life, Adele Brise lived Matthew 25 and 28 in living out what Our Lady requested her to do, which was, in all reality, an extension of Jesus’ missionary mandate to make disciples of all nations.
There does not need to be a tension between Matthew 25 and 28. It is not an either/or but a both/and. The unification of these two biblical mandates is something that we as Christians, can, should, and need to embrace more. It can be quite easy sometimes to dismiss invitations to care for the poor by stating that a specific ministry is the calling of another person or that the charism belongs to someone other than yourself. Instead of dismissing this opportunity to serve Christ in the destitute and marginalized, and thus to make disciples of all nations, let us work to building up the Kingdom of God by acts of Christian charity and living out the gospel message. When we leave Holy Mass, we go forth to glorify the Lord by our lives and to announce the Gospel of the Lord. For truly when we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, we are in effect going out and making disciples of all nations.