When Did We See Thee Hungry?

St Francis of Assisi Giving His Mantle to a Poor Man by Giotto di Bondone

Father Benson, commenting on Christ’s description of His future return to judge mankind (Matt 25:31-46), says: “On the one hand, He tells us, stand the saved; and on the other the lost; and the only reason He actually assigns, in this particular discourse, for that eternal separation between the two companies, is that those in the first have ministered to Him in their neighbour; and those in the second failed so to minister. ‘As long as you did it, or did it not, to one of these my least brethren, you did it, or did it not, to me.’ These then enter into life; and those into death.”

“Immediately we are puzzled by the apparent ignorance. . . . Both alike deprecate the sentence of acquittal and condemnation respectively: ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry . . . or thirsty . . . or naked . . . or sick or in prison?’ ‘We have never knowingly served Thee,’ say the one. ‘We have never knowingly neglected Thee,’ say the other. In answer our Lord repeats the fact that in serving or neglecting their neighbours, they have, respectively, served or neglected Himself.”

“The explanation is not so difficult. It is that the ignorance is not complete. For it is a universal fact of experience that we all feel an instinctive drawing towards our neighbour which we cannot reject without a sense of moral guilt. It may be that owing to ignorance or wilful rejection of light a man may fail to understand or believe the Fatherhood of God and the claims of Jesus Christ; it may even be that he sincerely believes himself justified intellectually in explicitly denying those truths; but no man ever yet has lived a wholly selfish life from the beginning, no man has ever yet deliberately refused to love his neighbour or to deny the Brotherhood of man, without a consciousness, at some period at least, that he is outraging his highest instincts.”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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