Jesus invites us into action, serving “the least of these.” Ask anyone today about their employment and you’re apt to hear high profile name dropping or executive jargon that will leave your head spinning and your self-worth plummeting. Such chest-puffing exercises dominate human impulses throughout history.
Several years ago at my son’s graduation, a group of a few dozen students proved the benefits of serving the least of these. This class lived out the principle throughout their public education from kindergarten to grade 12. A young boy with terminal illness co-existed with them — always facing limitations, often hospitalized for extended periods. The disease stole his life before he was able to graduate. The impact he had on his classmates and their families continues to be felt.
Unlike other graduation exercises I attended, a golden thread of their prevailing culture firmly translated into serving the least. They loved, cared for, assisted, supported and valued this young man holding him in high esteem.
“. . . ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least of
these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.'”
The expectation of Jesus goes far beyond the normal standards and expectations of benevolence. In North America those seeking public assistance supply perks to propel the “haves” of society to share with the “have-nots” — tickets, gift baskets, banquets and more.
Jesus observed similar practices in His day — elegant celebrations given exclusively for friends, brothers and sisters, relatives and rich neighbors. All those invited could return the favor, perhaps with a bonus. He calls His followers further,
“When you give a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled,
the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed . . .”
Perhaps the repayment would not be returned in kind but rather the status of association or public approval as part of the in-crowd. Who am I anxious to serve? Am I serving those who somehow benefit me or am I serving the least?
I’m asking myself these searching questions. Have I learned these lessons after many decades of living that my son effectively learned through his shared years in a classroom with someone who could never possibly repay or return the favor?
It Was Me!
Jesus makes a profound statement,
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
. . . thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
. . . a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
. . . was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The confused crowd asked, “How? When? What!” Such thinking so contravened their entrenched mindset that they were unable to connect the dots between their actions to others and their relationship with Christ. Jesus wasn’t talking to hooligans and renegades; He spoke such clarity to “the righteous!” (vs 37)
The parable represented people like me, writing this blog, and you, reading it. Normal, good people living their lives in the best way they knew how. Yet, in their living, they were somehow unable to see Jesus among the throngs of people.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me.'”
The Least of These
I don’t know about you, but I need a constant reminder to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person I encounter, knowing they belong to God and are made in His image.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.”
Do I see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the oppressed? Or am I looking for hands that will hold me up, voices that increase my value, or credentials that puff my reputation? The subtleties hidden from my own heart lay vibrantly clear and exposed to Christ.
One of the toughest places I choose to work is in the justice system, caring for people at crisis moments, arrested for crimes they’ve committed. Among them are thieves, abusers, addicts. Why? Because I’m especially gracious or caring? Not at all!!! Serving the least continuously stretches me beyond any personal capacity. It’s what Jesus asks of me.
As I write, I weep. Images of humanity, broken and disconnected, flash through my memory; disconnected from God and love. Each person teaches me something about myself that I would rather not see or be reminded of. Serving the least must become so ingrained in me that it flows naturally out of my love for Jesus. I’m not there yet. Honestly, I may never get there.
Sometimes seeing the reflection of Christ in those I would far rather hate, comes with an emotional price tag. I’m constantly reminded that Christ poured Himself out and died for this one — this lost and broken one in front of me. Just as the blood of Jesus covered over all my sins, it covers theirs too. They just don’t know Him yet.
Jesus ends the parable by speaking to those who refuse to see Him in the face of the needy,
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
He recognizes those who are His by how they treat the least among them. The righteous cast an eternal focus. Temporary elevations of status from the who’s-who-crowd pale. “What’s in it for me?” never enters their mind.
Like my son’s classmates, loving the least became a daily overflow of living life together. They never viewed it as sacrifice to push a wheelchair through the mud instead of playing on the soccer field. They refused self-centered agendas and self-promoting values. Not one of them measured their actions in eternal rewards. They joyously spent their time serving the one among them.
May I challenge you today as God challenges me? Who is the one? Who is the least of these God desires you to feed, give a glass of water to, invite into your home, clothe, visit or care for?
“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink
because of your name as followers of Christ,
truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
Many will scamper to provide for a person of high profile; the one who holds power and authority. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the way they publicized similar actions.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness
in front of others to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have no reward
from your Father in heaven.”
Few people consistently care for the least of these. Be assured, if you do, no one will notice — no one should. No one will commend you for the unseen grace and mercy you offer.
In thirteen years together, I wonder how many unpublicized acts of kindness were demonstrated within my son’s classroom. Countless, I’m sure! They learned well the lessons that I struggle to master, touching the life of the one among them.
“Bravo!” Jesus declares to each of you, now grown and many grey-haired, “Well done! May you always remember the joy of serving the least.”