Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2017
by Professor Hosffman Ospino Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Education School of Theology and Ministry
Hosffman Ospino holds an MA in theology with concentration in Church History and a PhD in Theology and Education from Boston College. Dr. Ospino's research concentrates on the dialogue between theology and culture and the impact of this interchange upon Catholic theological education, catechesis, and ministry.
For your reference - Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent:
1Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
I Am Naked…Would You Clothe Me?
"Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… [I was] naked and you clothed me’” (Matthew 25:34-36a).
Many times when I read or hear reflections inspired by Matthew 25, nakedness does not seem to receive as much attention as the references to caring about the ill or the stranger or the hungry. Perhaps we do not know exactly what to do, since we very rarely see someone naked on the street. If we were to find ourselves in such a situation, it is likely that we would turn away, shelter our children, and call the police or someone who would do something about it. We have learned to make nakedness someone else's problem.
Yes, in our society, and in our larger Western culture, nakedness tends to make us uncomfortable. We often find it indecent and scandalous. Nakedness reveals the rather raw dimension of our existence, and it also highlights our similarities. How different are we, really, without our clothes, our jewels, our perfumes, and our make-up?
To speak of nakedness from a Christian perspective is to speak of our embodied existence. Nakedness is beautiful because it reminds us that our bodies are gifts from God, the gifts through which we enter into a relationship with God, others, and the world. When these gifts are exposed or used in inappropriate ways, when they are unclean, when they are afflicted, violated, or mutilated, then we must react. We must do something. We must be scandalized.
I believe that Jesus' invitation to see him in the one who is naked, calling us to clothe this person, is ultimately a demand to honor the human body as a gift from God—our own bodies and the bodies of every other human being. If nakedness is to cause some scandal, it is not a scandal rooted in pious prudishness or our inability to come to terms with our bodily nature. I think that Jesus's invitation is more radical.
Here are some facts that illustrate some instances in our society where nakedness is truly scandalous and compels us to do something:
- More than half a million people in the United States are homeless; more than fifty percent of them are part of homeless families.
- About 21 million people in the world, mostly women and children, are victims of human trafficking. Most human trafficking involves sexual exploitation; the second largest expression of this social ill is labor exploitation. More than 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.
Homelessness and human trafficking point to forms of nakedness with which we seldom associate Jesus's words. Nonetheless, this is real nakedness and, as Christians, we cannot turn our eyes away from it.
Real nakedness is about people in our midst who do not have a permanent place that they can call home where their bodies can rest; a place where they can take a refreshing bath, change clothes, and care about their bodies as gifts from God. Are we moved in any way when we see someone sleeping on the streets on a cold winter night?
Real nakedness is about people whose bodies are broken and violated by sexual exploitation as well as labor practices that treat them as objects rather than true human beings created in God’s image and likeness. Are we moved in any way when we learn about people being trafficked or exploited?
Clothing, then, becomes more than merely donating a coat or a used set of pants. Clothing in these cases is about raising our prophetic voices, denouncing sin, embracing the broken bodies, rescuing the slave, accompanying the naked person, and providing a home.
When we encounter the sister or brother who is homeless or trafficked in our midst, regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, they are the face of Christ for us here and now. Are we seeing the face of Christ in the person who says, "I am naked…would you clothe me?"
As we continue to journey through this powerful season of Lent, let us focus part of our prayer and reflection time on how we clothe "the naked" in our families, our faith communities, our social circles, towns and cities, and in our country.
What can you take up this Lent once you see the face of Christ in the person who is naked? Let me offer you a few suggestions:
Educate yourself, your family, and community about issues related to homelessness and human trafficking
Have a conversation with your children or grandchildren about these topics. Host a meeting in your faith community to talk about the impact of homelessness and human trafficking on the lives of people in our country, or perhaps in your own community. Draw from the wells of our Catholic wisdom and commitment. For instance:
- Learn about what Catholic Charities USA does to fight and prevent homelessness and the Jesuit Spirituality Project, which offers people who are homeless spiritual accompaniment that leads to sustained transformation.
- Learn about the efforts from organizations like Catholic Relief Services and U.S. Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
Find out what you can do in your organization, town, city, or state to advocate, to respond, and ideally to prevent homelessness and human trafficking. Write or speak with your political representatives to see what they are doing to address these situations affecting the lives of many people in our midst. Express your opinion informed by your faith.
Do something practical this Lent
- Visit a homeless shelter, and ask how you can help.
- Contact a Catholic sister or an organization working to stop human trafficking. Ask how you can help.
- Send a donation to an organization that dedicates its efforts to fight homelessness or human trafficking.
- Offer a prayer, at least once a week, for people whose lives are directly impacted by homelessness and human trafficking.
For reflection and discussion:
1. What can you do as a person of faith to raise awareness and take action about homelessness and human trafficking?
2. What will you do this Lent to see the face of Christ in the person who is naked?
3. Can you spare 15 minutes of your busy life at some point this week to pray and meditate? If so, name that moment, reserve it, and treat it as sacred. Return to this reflection during that time.
Please submit a comment or response to this week’s Reflection below. We will post as many possible.