'Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' - Matthew 25:40

Historians remind us of the fifth-century regulation of Pope Leo the Great: "The one who governs all must be chosen by all."

Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) correlates to this: In an era in which people lived in tightly-structured, hierarchical societies, a religious movement appeared which insisted on the equality and dignity of all its members.

To say the least, early Christianity was counter-cultural. Those who study the first Christian communities tell us that one of the main reasons people converted to this new religion revolved around the importance each individual experienced when he or she committed themselves to imitating Jesus' dying and rising.

They themselves became "other Christs," equal members of the communities to which they belonged.

Shepherd coming
Long before Jesus, the classic Hebrew prophets also condemned anyone - especially leaders - who treated others with disdain. In Sunday's Ezekiel passage (Ez 34:11-12,15-17), for instance, we hear the prophet promise those crushed down by unfeeling leaders that, one day, Yahweh will break into their oppressed lives and actually "shepherd" them.

"'I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest;' says Yahweh God. 'The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.'"

Paul (I Cor 15:20-26,28) carries God's promise to care for all one step further. He reminds his Corinthian community that whatever happened to the risen Jesus will happen to them. If He died, they'll die; if He rose, they'll rise.

The Apostle first takes he readers back to Genesis - "For just as in Adam all die..." - but quickly moves to the present: "So too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each in proper order: Christ the first fruits; then at His coming, those who belong to Christ."

The end result is that "God [will] be all in all!" One can't have more dignity than that!

Christ beside us
In Sunday's oft-read Gospel passage, Matthew's Jesus is concerned that His followers recognize His presence in all those around them, especially in those most in need. It's precisely when we reach out to the needy that we're reaching out to the risen Jesus.

"Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me," Jesus declares.

Growing up Catholic, I was frequently reminded that I should recognize the uniqueness of our parish priests. They were the other Christs among us. Only much later did I discover that I, as a priest, am another Christ not because of what happened to me on Dec. 16, 1964, in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, when I was ordained; but because of what happened to me on Feb. 11, 1940, in St. Mary's Church in Belleville, Illinois, when I was baptized.

We usually have little pity for the "goats" in Sunday's Gospel who "go off to eternal punishment" for refusing to surface the risen Jesus in the needy around them. But perhaps we should have a little more pity for some Christian leaders - other Christs - who find it difficult to find Jesus in those other Christs they're privileged to lead.