This homily is based on Matthew 25:31-46.
It’s quite fashionable these days to come up with a bucket list. A bucket list is a list of goals in life that one wants to do before one “kicks the bucket”–in other words, must-do’s before one dies.
There are loads of ideas you can consider. If you’re the adventurous type, you could list down traveling to unfamiliar and far-flung places, like seeing the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights in Norway. If you’re athletic, you could try joining a marathon or even a triathlon–or some other extreme sport like skydiving. If you’re into new things, you could list down learning a language you’ve always wanted to learn, or doing something creative like write a book, get into poetry or cartooning. If it’s meaning of life you’re looking for, you might consider donating to charity, doing volunteer work, or some other way to make some difference in someone’s life.
The possibilities are endless. There are also much crazier ideas that you’ll find on the Internet, of course–like doing the Polar plunge, taking a selfie with a tiger in Chiang Mai, and even posing for a sexy calendar (?!!).
The logic behind these fashionable bucket lists is summed up by the acronym, YOLO: “You Only Live Once!” In other words, make the most of your life!
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus offers us a different sort of bucket list and invites us to make the most of our lives–in a different way, in the way that matters. At the end of time, to help him sort us into “sheep and goats”–i.e., between those who will be rewarded and those who will not–the question our Lord says he’s bound to ask each one of us will be pretty straightforward–and when you think about it, it’s really equivalent to the mother of all bucket lists. The items are few–there are only a total of six items–and they sound pretty simple. Here goes:
1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Welcome the stranger.
4. Clothe the naked.
5. Care for the sick.
6. Visit the prisoners.
That’s it. The questions we need to answer now, however are not: “Have I fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, etc.?” but “Am I feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, etc.?” If we aren’t doing any of this now, chances are, we’ll simply end up too busy doing other things, and before we know it, we will have run out of time. I’m not sure if it’s okay to tell the Lord, “Actually, Lord, I’ve always really wanted to do all that, but just never got around to it.”
We don’t have to help out in a weekly soup kitchen to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. We don’t need to open the doors of our home literally to shelter the homeless, or remove the shirt on our back to give it to the naked, nor join Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity to care for the sick or visit the prisoners. Of course you could actually do all that if you believe that that’s what you’re being called to do, as so many inspiring people have done.
But there are so many simple and concrete possibilities that can help us tick off these six items on the Lord’s bucket list without leaving our jobs or families and without having to overhaul our lives. We need only to open our eyes to every little daily opportunity to help those in need or simply to be kind to them.
Just yesterday, I was seated in a crowded train on the way home, exhausted from the day’s work. When we reached a stop, a mother sitting across me hurriedly carried her child to get off the train. I saw an umbrella behind her seat, and wondered if I should bring it to the woman who had already alighted from the train. In the seconds that followed, all these thoughts raced simultaneously through my head: “It’s only an umbrella! Maybe it’s not hers! Others can help her! It’s going to be embarrassing if it turns out to be someone else’s!” But something must have possessed me because before I knew it, I grabbed the umbrella and ran out to hand it to the grateful mother.
It’s an extremely simple deed, but what strikes me–and embarrasses me now–as I recount it is that just the same, it required effort on my part. I could have easily let the moment pass–as I must have done so often in the past–and explained it away. But I’m grateful that at least I did not yesterday–not only because that mother got her umbrella back, but also because I realize that if I don’t grab every little opportunity to do whatever I can to help others, I will never be able to rise up to the occasions when it will matter more.
This morning as I was coming out of the tube station, a man was handing out a newspaper to pedestrians. I’ve seen him before; I see him every day, in fact. Today he must have been standing there in the cold for hours, just trying to do his job. On other days, I would have just walked past him, having no interest in his papers and having every intention of rushing off to school. But this morning something must have possessed me again, and I did something different: I took a paper from him, smiled, and said, “Thank you.”
Again, it’s a small, insignificant thing that surprisingly required extra effort–a mindfulness and commitment simply to be kind. Maybe the man appreciated it because most pedestrians would just ignore him or take what he handed out without even acknowledging his presence. Or maybe it didn’t really matter to him. But it matters to me, and I’d like to think it matters to the Lord. For me, such small deeds of kindness is my way of ticking off the items on the Lord’s bucket list for me.
So when you think about it, on a daily basis, the Lord asks for nothing radically dramatic or extreme from us: Just simple acts of kindness to those we meet. If we keep at it, maybe one day, we will actually be able to make a difference for one of the Lord’s hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, and unfree children–and not even remember we’re doing it for the Lord.