I have been struggling with what to say in the face of recent acts of violence, the American debate about welcoming Syrian refugees, and an overwhelming sense of compassion fatigue and confusion about what is the “right” thing to do when considering war and peace, good and evil, life and death. Theoretical conversations only get us so far. Real life is where our theology is truly tested. This week, instead of being fired up and ready for action, I find myself exhausted – exhausted by our continual ability to treat each other inhumanely, exhausted by an overwhelming sense impotence in the face of suffering and evil, and exhausted by oversimplifications and generalizations that end up justifying our behavior.
In the midst of my exhaustion, fatigue, and inability to articulate anything coherent this week, I celebrated the life and witness of Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary at Eucharist today. For those of you who do not know her story, she was born in the early 1200s and was married by age fourteen. She had a passion for the poor; so much so, that her husband allowed her to use her dowry to tend the sick and poor. When a famine struck the land, she sold her jewels to build a hospital to care for others and she opened the royal granary. When her husband died, she was kicked out by the court for her “extravagances.” But she dedicated her life to the sick and poor anyway, and died at age 24 from exhaustion.
As I celebrate another year this month (many more than Elizabeth got to enjoy), I am struck by how much she did in so little time. I am exhausted from thinking and feeling so much. Elizabeth was exhausted from doing so much. And as if I needed any further reminder of what Jesus is calling me to do than Elizabeth’s witness, the gospel lesson assigned today comes from Matthew. Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25.31-40)
While my exhausted heart, mind, and soul are wondering what to make of all of this, Jesus is clear and strong. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. When I feed, slake, or welcome others, not only am I loving them, but also I am loving Christ Jesus. I am sure Jesus is moved when our hearts and minds pondering these things. But today, Jesus is also inviting us to do. To feed, slake, welcome, clothe, tend, and visit. Because when we do those things, we do them to Jesus.