It was 1:14 p.m. on September 19, and I had just hung up from a phone call and was returning to work on my next series of sermons, when suddenly the floor started roaring and shaking. As a native of Mexico City, I knew exactly what to do. I left everything behind me and jumped into the stairway to reach the street exit of the church building. When I was standing in the middle of the street, I heard the crash of glass, and that was it. Another earthquake had passed, I thought, and I went into the building again to gather my belongings.
When I once again returned to the street, suddenly everything had changed. People were screaming and running in every direction, our building was on fire on the eighth floor, and there was the sound of explosions all around. In the midst of the chaos, I heard my name. It was like I was dreaming when I saw Teresa, my wife, and Hugo, my son. They came running from our home to see if I was all right, and the first thing they said was that a building on our street had fallen down. I was in shock and could not think of what I should do. I sat down outside our apartment building and stared blankly into space. This was my “spiritual and brave” response to the tragedy that had just occurred in our city.
When I pulled myself together again, there was only one thing that I could think about: How can our church help our neighbors in the midst of such a great need? People needed food. Teams of rescuers needed medicines and construction tools, as well as extra people to help remove rubble from fallen buildings. Thousands of families saw their homes damaged or destroyed. Too much was needed, and there seemed to be so little that we could do in contrast to the magnitude of the catastrophe.
Jesus said that we will always have poor people around us who need help (Matt. 26:11), but we cannot think that it is only people whom we consider poor whom we should have in mind. Jesus was referring to all those in need around us. In the same gospel, but before He speaks about the poor, Jesus expresses with clarity the importance that He places on working for the well-being of the needy. Our identity as children of God is demonstrated by a strong commitment to serve those who suffer. This is so important that Jesus says that on the day of judgment, we will be judged by our deeds:
Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:44–46)
Of course, we need to understand that He was not saying that salvation is the product of our good works, but rather that genuine faith in Him will be expressed as we do everything we can for those who need us.