In my opinion, the most powerful testimony to God’s love and concern for the poor is found in Matthew 25: 31-46:
“When the Son of Man [Jesus] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
These words of Jesus present a stunning truth: Jesus loves and cares about immigrants and the poor so much that when we love them we are actually loving him!
Jesus identifies so closely with the struggles of the poor that he teaches that the barometer of a sincere relationship with him is whether or not we love the poor. If we love him, then we will love the poor. When we love the poor we are loving him.
St. Augustine put it this way, Jesus is present “in the person of the poor.” "Christ is needy when a poor person is in need" and "is hungry when the poor are hungry." "To come to the aid of the poor…is to come to the aid of Christ the Head who is present and in need in the poor.” I love Mother Theresa’s summation of Matthew 25, too: “Jesus appears in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
I like to describe these verses in Matthew as the “WWDJ,” or, “What Would You Do For Jesus” passage. It’s common to see people wearing bracelets which say, “WWJD,” or “What Would Jesus Do.” The sentiment behind these catchy bracelets is a good one. The idea is that, when confronted with a difficult situation, the wearer of the bracelet will stop him or herself and ask, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” “WWDJ” stands for a related, but different proposition drawn from the logic of Matthew 25: If Jesus is really present in immigrants, the homeless, and the poor, then we should think long and hard about the way we respond in our daily lives to immigrants, homeless individuals, or the poor. Would you ever call Jesus a racist name like “beaner,” “spic,” or “wet back”? Would you ever spit upon Jesus and call him “lazy” and a “bum” if He asked you for money outside of your local grocery store? Would you ever call Him a “welfare mom who needs to stop having babies and get a job”?
The fact of the matter is that if we really take the Bible seriously, then Jesus is present in the homeless person wandering our local neighborhood in search of food and a dry and safe place to lay her head; he is present in the undocumented male immigrant cutting our lawn, cooking our meal and cleaning our dishes in the backroom of Denny’s; he is present in the undocumented mujer who cleans our home and raises our children, and, as Cesar Chavez understood, in the farm worker who picks our fruit at minimum wage so that we can buy strawberries on sale for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s. Jesus is also present in the “AB-540 student” who works 30- 40 hours a week, commutes 100 miles a day by public transportation, and who sacrifices food for books in order to attend UCLA. He is present in the Mexicana who is deported and ripped apart from her young U.S.-citizen children and deported to Mexico because mainstream U.S. society is content to benefit from her cheap labor and at the same time blame her for all of it’s social ills; Jesus is present in the female Asian immigrant who was tricked into prostitution and who now lives as a sex slave in Monterey Park and in her relatives who labor away in sweatshops of Downtown L.A. so that a sixteen year old suburban teen can buy her trendy jeans on sale at Forever 21; He is also present in the African-American and Latino youth of South L.A. who are denied equal access to quality public education, medical care, safe parks, and so many other things; He is present in all of the inner city residents of the United States who suffer from the increased risk of a multitude of health problems because they live in “food deserts”; Jesus is present in the many African-American women who experience an increased risk of pre-term pregnancy and infant mortality because of the many expressions of racism which they continue to endure in white America.
Jesus is present in all of the poor, disenfranchised, and “least of society.” If we love him, we will love them. WWDJ?