Are you familiar with the TV series “undercover boss”?
The show, Undercover Boss, aired for 8 seasons. (I am not sure if it is renewed for this coming year.) The plot is simple. A high ranking official in a company goes undercover. They are given a disguise and a new back story, and show up with a film crew following them around under the guise of a “documentary” being done about entry level positions in companies. Since the employees have no idea that the one they are working side by side with is actually their boss, they tend to be more candid than otherwise. If they knew it was the boss, like all of us, they would be on their best behavior. But since they don’t, the boss sees their character, in its goodness and ugliness and all the stages in between. And the boss is given insight into the flaws and the strengths of the company from the eyes of those in the trenches.
In many ways, the story Jesus tells us about the final judgment could be an episode of Undercover Boss. Because both groups are surprised to find out that they had been walking side by side with the boss, ignoring him, or serving him every day of their lives. It was not obvious as they went about their daily rounds that it was Jesus to whom they ministered, or did not minister to… He walked among them, not an incognito boss, but an incognito king!
Two things, then, about this story.
First, the conclusion is one of the most radical claims of the gospel: Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms – we are the place of God’s presence! The life of each man, woman, child, from the murderer on death row to the unborn child to the widow next door to the homeless person on the streets – there, in the least of your brothers and sisters you will find the presence of Christ. What an innate glory that is. What a blessing we are – to carry within us the presence of Christ.
Secondly, think about this. This is the only story that Jesus tells about the last judgment that gives us the CRITERION for that judgment. There are other sayings about the last judgment, but now the “conditions” upon which we are judged. There is a stark, arresting, obvious-ness to it. Either we did or we didn’t do it to Jesus in EACH opportunity we have in a day’s time. The hungry, the thirsty, the abandoned, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner – either they receive our love or they don’t –as we choose. And we are judged, for better or worse on whether we loved and served them. BOOM! End of story. Gavel bangs down. And we’ve done it or we haven’t.
That scares bejeebers out of me. It matters not the motive for our love or failure to love. It doesn’t matter if we love because we believe in God or it makes us feel good, or we can’t stand to see people struggle. It doesn’t matter if we don’t love because we grew up in dysfunctional homes or were children of alcoholic parents, or weren’t feeling well that day. What only matters is: Did we love? Did we give our very human love away in service to the least of our brothers and sisters? Or did we not?
Concretely – let me share three words to put into our pocket and carry with us as we strive to live this challenging gospel mandate:
- Awareness – the cameras are filming us – the undercover boss is right there with us in EACH opportunity of our day. Be aware of the cry for help. Be aware of the sadness in a friend’s eyes. Simply be aware of so many who are hurting around you. Will you live with that awareness every day?
- Generosity – it is never good to be stingy with the boss, or our co-workers, or our spouse or our kids. In the show, at the reveal, those workers who were generous with their time and effort find themselves rewarded. They lived with generous hearts. We are invited to love generously, because to do so helps the poor and it keeps our hearts from getting small. When you love, let it open your heart wide!
- Joy. When we meet him in the hungry and serve him in the stranger and love him in the sick and dying, we discover a joy that has no boundaries. You and I have the privilege of serving our King and showing him our love in very concrete ways. What a joy that is.
So, here is the truth we are invited to know this Feast of Christ the King. We are all in a LIVE episode, not of incognito boss, but of incognito KING. Our Lord waits to be loved in each last and least and lost among us. Be aware. Be generous. Be joy-filled!