Sunday, November 26, 2017
The Solemnity of Christ the King
Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King. Our Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 25, where Jesus describes the Last Judgment, a scene that many artists have rendered over the years, most famously Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Our own age, though, may need to reflect on Matthew 25 anew. In the age of social media, the scene changes. I offer my worried, exaggerated interpretation below.
When I was hungry, you thought about the surprised and the angry emojis, but settled on the sad emoji. When I was thirsty, you commented that you were praying for me. When I was naked, you didn’t report me for inappropriate content. When I was sick or in prison, you were one of my 5 friends who copied and pasted my status. And when I was a stranger, you accepted my friend request.
When I was hungry, you took my picture and posted it with an appropriate social justice quotation from Gandhi. When I was thirsty, you added me to your story. When I was naked, you covered me with a location indicator and an embarrassed emoji. When I was sick, you came up with the best hashtags. And when I was a stranger, you got me over a hundred likes.
When I was hungry, you tweeted about it. When I was thirsty, you tweeted about it. When I was naked, you tweeted about it. When I was sick, you tweeted about it. When I was in prison, you tweeted about it. And when I was a stranger, you retweeted from someone else’s account.
Of course, there is still the world outside of social media (although the lines are blurring). So let’s look at one last contortion of Matthew 25.
When I was hungry, you zoned me out of view. When I was thirsty, you stole my water and bottled it for profit. When I was naked, you arrested me. When I was sick, you made healthcare too expensive for me. When I was in prison, you dehumanized and forgot about me. And when I was a stranger, you scapegoated me.
These caricatures of social media, politics, and corporate culture are hyperbole and satire, of course. Social media, for instance, can and has been used to generate genuinely caring responses that bring direct relief to victims of disasters, illnesses, and the like; and many business people operate with concern for the common good. But is there an element of truth in the caricatures? Have we become so accustomed to responding in virtual space or with political and market ideologies that we have grown weak in our basic human ability to see the personal need right in front of us and to care? Have we felt powerless to do much more than to click on a sad emoji?
Akin to our social media responses that lack real human contact and genuine care, St. James admonished the first Christians (and us), saying, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17). It is not enough to comment that we are praying for someone. We must also find ways to act. In the words of the African proverb, “When you pray, move your feet.”
The Last Judgment scene as Jesus described it is full of (or neglectful of) genuine human interaction and caring:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.”
Our job as Christians is to evangelize our culture and to convert our own lives, by God’s grace, so that all the tools and technologies of our society (social, print, and broadcast media; internet; political, educational, and business institutions; etc.) are employed in nurturing human relationships and caring for basic human needs. In short, we have become much more aware of all the suffering in the world because of technology, but unless we find ways to humanly act, we are not yet ready for the final judgment.