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.  –  Matthew 25:34

This vision of the kingdom of God reveals an interesting perspective into the identification of the face of God.  The scenario is that of the eschatological Christ presented as victor and King.  Yet the ones who belong to the kingdom of the Victor are not warriors and statesmen, nor kings and rulers–rather, it is the sick, the impoverished and the oppressed.  Yet these are not simply citizens of God's eschatological kingdom by proxy, but are more audaciously the ones with whom God in Christ self-identifies.  It is in their faces and lives that God dwells most vividly.

It is often said that God is no respector of persons; and in ways this is probably true.  However, the eschatological Christ reveals that the poor and downtrodden have a special place within the life and kingdom of God.

If the poor and oppressed have such a central place in the eschatological kingdom of God, what then should the Christian response to poverty be?  Historically, the answer has been varied.  At times, the Church has made tremendous outreach toward inclusivity and restoration of the poor and marginalized while, at other times, an unfortunate tendency toward over-spiritualization has resulted in increased oppression and neglect in the name of spreading the gospel.

With either approach, however, the danger is that whether the goal is social good or evangelism, the poor will yet remain "them".   Filling bellies and souls is great, but if the impoverished are ever on the outside, the goal of the eschatological kingdom of God is lost.  

This is why the early Church was so appealing to the poor and distressed.  It was not simply because the people did good things for each other, but because by entering into relationship with the Church, people were welcomed into a community of shared life, acceptance and grace.  In this community they found help and life that vanquished the despair and distress of the world around them.

And this is precisely the picture that we find in this vision of God's kingdom.  The face of Christ within the poor and marginalized professes that these not only find a special place within the heart of God, but that it is through community with "the least of these" that the kingdom of God is realized.  The face of Christ in these calls and compels us all to engage their needs and to welcome them into their lives that we might be incorporated into theirs.  As we do, we find that the kingdom of God is realized in us as we embrace the face of God for which we all seek.