In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis’ witty fictional depiction of the devil, he suggests that Satan’s best weapon is apathy. Indeed, the devil himself says that his work is easiest when people don’t believe he exists.Now, I’m not saying we should all be focused on the forces of evil in the world, but today’s Gospel reading reminds me how insidious and dangerous apathy can be. I’m not talking about the apathy of others. I’m talking about my own.Jesus tells his followers that ultimately we will all be judged on how we treat the weakest among us. He says we will be rewarded for giving a food to the hungry, a glass of water to the thirsty, hospitality to the lonely, and clothes to the naked. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I did any of those things, even figuratively. I rarely go out of my way to tangibly help people less fortunate than I am, particularly if I don’t know them. Yes, I volunteer at school. Yes, I send checks to worthwhile nonprofits. But it is not my hand reaching out to the needy. It’s not that I don’t want to. I do. I just never get around to doing it. It is refreshing, in a way, that this is the criteria for acceptance into God’s kingdom. It’s not about what you believe in your head, or how well you follow rules, but how you live your life. It’s refreshing but a much more difficult challenge. It’s easy to say you believe something and feel righteous and blessed. It is much more difficult to go out and get your hands dirty in the lives of others. It’s easy to say you believe something and feel righteous and blessed. It is much more difficult to go out and get your hands dirty in the lives of others.
In the song “I Gave You All,” by Mumford and Sons, singer Marcus Mumford says, “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I would have won.” Indeed, apathy is a stronger enemy than it seems. Not thinking about something is the same as not doing it, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I don’t need to do it. But the reality is that most of us are able to do what we want to do, particularly when it comes to how we spend our time. After all, you don’t need money to give someone a glass of water, or to welcome someone into your home. You just need a willing heart.Jesus calls us to live differently — to be alarmed when we see human suffering in our own yards, and to do something about it. If everyone who considers themselves followers of Jesus acted like one, myself included, our communities would be far better for it, and so would we. There would be less hunger and poverty, less shame and loneliness, and far more joy.Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].