In the last week I have read many articles and commentaries about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. The acts committed by former defensive football coach Jerry Sandusky are horrific and unconscionable. He preyed on the vulnerability of children who were to be helped by his charitable organization and he must be held accountable. Others, too, must be held accountable for their failure to report his known actions to the appropriate authorities. I commend the University’s Board of Trustees for their quick and decisive action to remove Head Coach Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier when this situation was brought to light. While these two men did not personally and physically commit the heinous act of sexual abuse, they bear some responsibility. Through their inaction, they participated in the abuse by allowing it to continue. Acts of omission are as harmful as acts of commission.
This situation was weighing heavily on my mind this morning when I began initial preparations for next Sunday’s sermon. I am preaching on the prescribed gospel lection – Matthew 25: 31 – 46. This text, which has traditionally been called “The Judgment of the Nations,” includes the infamous words of Jesus, “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 … 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” (25: 35, 40 NRSV). Those to whom he speaks these words are invited to inherit the kingdom. He then turns to the crowd on his left and says, “… for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me … truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (25: 42 – 43, 45). These contrasting words are spoken to those who will not inherit the kingdom.
As I reflected on this text, I heard an audible voice say, “I was being abused and you did nothing to stop it … just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Wow. Those words have haunted me over the last several hours, causing me to examine myself and look for places where I have contributed to injustice by my own inaction. These words are a clarion call to each of us. What are we doing to stop abuse and injustice in this world? The lives of the “least of these” are depending on it. And our very own lives depend on it, too.
Until next time, peace …