Serving the Least of These

Matthew 25:40 by Cameron John Robbins

Matthew 25:31-40 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Loving as He loves,
Helping as He helps,
Giving as He gives,
Serving as He serves,
Rescuing as He rescues,
Being with Him twenty-four hours,
Touching Him in his distressing disguise.
- Mother Teresa of Calcutta

If believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.
- Tim Keller

The most salient and consistent characteristic of believers that emerges from the Judeo-Christian and most other major religious traditions is care for orphans and widows—the helpless, the vulnerable, the marginalized of society. Love of the other serves as a litmus test of the true measure of our love of God. This concern and action are not merely options for when we have spare time or some extra change. They are absolute imperativites. In fact, the only judgment scene in all the Gospels clearly conveys the message that inclusion in the kingdom is based on fidelity to works of mercy. – Jerry Kearney, True Worship in The Upper Room Disciplines 2012

If we are not interested in the minds, the feelings, the hopes, fears, sorrows and joys of everyone with whom we come in contact, we are not interested in Christ. Whatever we do to anyone, we do to him. If we are impatient with the mental suffering, the doubting, the questioning, and the wrestling with the angel of the more sensitive minds, then we are impatient with the mind of Christ bleeding under the crown of thorns. If we shrink from the broken lives of sinners, then we draw away from Christ fallen and crushed under his cross.  If we will not go to the sick and the poor to help them, we will not help Christ. -Caryll Houselander, The Comforting of Christ

In her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris tells a story about an old, Russian Orthodox monk who has been trained in the monastic tradition of welcoming all guests as if they were Christ. He says the following to a younger monk, realizing how years of practicing this spiritual discipline have changed him. “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’”

Click here for a reflection entitled Samaritan, by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. It’s an incredibly beautiful and challenging reminder of how the rich and poor need one another and heal one another.

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me you heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
- chorus of Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath

James 1:27 (NRSV)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
-The Talmud

A sacrament is a “sign”, a place that renders God present. For Mary, the body of Jesus was a “sacrament”, the place where she met God. We often say, therefore, that the weak and the broken are a “sacrament” which means that they render Jesus present: “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:45)
- Jean Vanier, Befriending the Stranger

In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread. In our work we find him under the appearance of flesh and blood. It is the same Christ. “I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.” - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I just don’t think the economy of grace includes 2 separate classes of people, one who hunger and one who offer food. The fact is, we are all both sheep and goat. We are both bearers of the Gospel and receivers of it. We meet the needs of others and have our needs met. And the strangeness of the good news is that, like those who sat before the throne and said huh? when did we ever feed you Lord?, we never know when it is that we touch Jesus in all of this. All that we have is a promise, a promise that your needs are holy to God. A Promise that Jesus is present in the meeting of needs and that his kingdom is here. And that he’s a different kind of king who rules over a different kind of kingdom. Because it looks more like being thirsty and having someone you don’t even like give you water more than it looks like polishing a crown. It looks like giving my three extra coats to the trinity of junkies on the corner than it looks like ermine trimmed robes. That is the surprising scandal of the Gospel; the surprising scandal of the Kingdom: it looks like the same crappy mess that bumps us out of our unconscious addiction to being good, so that you can look at Jesus as he approaches you on the street and says, man, You look like you could use a good meal. – Nadia Bolz-Weber

Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I’m wary of faith outside of actions.
I’m wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world.
- Bono, Rolling Stone Interview (2005)

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives. Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone. I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
- Bono, Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast (2006)

And I`ll follow you into the homes that are broken.
Follow you into the world.
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy God.
Follow you into the world.
- chorus from Follow You by Jack and Leeland Mooring
inspired by the preceeding words of Bono

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

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One thought on “Serving the Least of These

  1. Lisa, while serving on the board for a homeless ministry in Gainesville I learned from a Rabbi on the board the three concepts of giving in the Jewish tradition. Tithe, Offerings (anything above a tithe), and Alms giving. They believe that the highest and purist form of giving, the one most honored by God is Alms giving – the sharing of your resources with the least, last and lost of society.

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