but no stranger had to spend the night in the street,
for my door was always open to the traveler—
- Job 31:32
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
- Matthew 25:31-46
“Levinas’s ideas are most easily understood through looking at an example. Imagine that you are walking down a street on a cold winter evening, and you see a beggar huddled in a doorway. She may not even be asking for change, but somehow you can’t help feeling some obligation to respond to this stranger’s need. You may choose to ignore her, but even if you do, something has already been communicated to you: the fact that this is a person who needs your help.
“Levinas was a Lithuanian Jew who lived through the Holocaust. He says that reason lives in language in Totality and Inﬁnity (1961), explaining that ‘language’ is the way that we communicate with others even before we have started to speak. Whenever l see the face of another person, the fact that this is another human being and that I have a responsibility for them is instantly communicated. l can turn away from this responsibility, but I cannot escape it. This is why reason arises out of the face-to-face relationships we have with other people. It is because we are faced by the needs of other human beings that we must offer justiﬁcations for our actions. Even if you do not give your change to the beggar, you ﬁnd yourself having to justify your choice.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) has made an excellent observation. My wife made the observation in Sunday school that the panhandler on the side of the road may be faking his homelessness and living in a better house than we do. But when you make eye contact you have communicated some type of contract with that person. The key is whether you act upon it.
Some take the explanation of the parable of the sheep and the goats to be literal, that Jesus really is that poor person on the side of the road. I think we can take the figurative approach. God is everywhere.
Yet, Levinas makes this statement without extolling any religious tenet. As I have written, as well as many others, when your nose is stuck in the air, you cannot see that beggar on the side of the road. Go to the big hotels in the southern end of the Mumbai peninsula, and you cannot miss the beggars, you must negotiate a sea of them to get inside the hotel. There are guards to prevent them from entering the hotel.
And the issues that arise in our world today provide further and further physical separation. This is Satan’s grand scheme. If we no longer see each other face-to-face, then we lose that connection that could lead to something helpful for that beggar. But simply people in general, when we are divided on every topic, their faces are so far away that we can justify a different choice, choosing that they simply are not human, and thus meaningless.
Our choices to help our fellowman never come to the surface. We see those of like minds and similar economic strata, but everyone else is in a distant sea of meaninglessness.
Let this not be so. Let us see one another face-to-face. We may not always make the right choice, but we will have that choice to make. And if the Holy Spirit is working as our guide, we will make right choices much of the time.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.