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…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.
Toward the end of my graduate courses in theology, I took a class on ministry through the life cycle. During our class on welcoming young families in the parish, we watched a video of a speaker encouraging pews full of mothers that their work as a parent answered the call of Matthew’s Gospel to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend to the sick. Whenever they cared for their children—the least among us—they were caring for Christ himself.
When the video ended, my hand shot up. And with the confidence that one can only muster before having children, I declared that this so-called parenting expert had it wrong. The idea that Christ’s commandment to care for the poor and needy—the very criteria by which we will be judged at the end of times—could be satisfied by raising one’s own kids? It was a complete cop-out.
It was really about justice, I argued. It was really about solidarity. It was really about radical love for marginalized members of society.
It was not about dirty diapers and baby bottles and car pools and doctor’s visits.
If anything, I argued, Christian parents were called to teach their children what it meant to actually visit prisoners, to actually welcome strangers, to actually feed the starving. Anything less was simply the watering down of Christ’s call.
Years later, I can tell you with just as much confidence that I only had it half-right.
I still believe that parents have a duty to raise their children to care for those in poverty and need. I still maintain that the watering down of the Gospel is an alarming trend for those of us who live in relative comfort and wealth. I still argue that Christ’s call in Matthew’s Gospel is about radical love and charity and service— a disturbing reminder for we who squirm in the pews and wonder if our lives will set us on the right or the left side on judgment day.
But what I have learned in the years since I became a parent is this truth. Continue reading