The Least of These

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Matthew 25:40-45

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

There was an Easter time when I was busily preparing for the annual family celebration that I hosted for many years. I was buzzing around town like a crazed bee thinking more about the list of things I had to do before Sunday than the meaning of Holy Week. I had just visited the Airline farmers’ market to procure fresh fruit and vegetables for the dishes I planned to prepare. I had found lovely flowers to decorate the tables and then use as party favors for the guests. I was filled with great joy but also anxiety that the clock was ticking and I would not get everything done. I had many more errands to complete and lots of cooking and cleaning to do before members of my family would crowd into my home. The last thing I needed was any kind of delay. 

Then it happened. An elderly man in a wheelchair was making a scene in the middle of the road bringing traffic to a standstill. He was either intoxicated, drugged or mentally ill or all of the above as he yelled obscenities and cried out for help. Those of us in our cars waited impatiently for his fit to subside. Some swore at him demanding that he get out of the road. Others uncomfortably looked away. I simply felt sorry for myself for choosing that route in a moment when I needed to keep checking off the completion of my tasks with great speed. 

Suddenly a woman emerged from her car. She was rather rough looking to say the least. Her hair looked like a bird’s nest and a cigarette hung loosely from her lips as though she was not willing to set it aside for even a short time. She wore no shoes and her feet were dirty. An array  of tattoos ran up and down her arms and legs. Her tank top was so tight that her breasts threatened to spill from the cover of the cloth. She turned to those of us in our cars with a look of disgust on her face as she motioned with her hands for all of us to wait for just a moment while she took charge. 

She walked over to the man who was still raging away. She bent down and embraced him so lovingly that it almost seemed as though she knew him. He immediately became quiet as she smoothed the hair out of his face and handed him a bottle of water that she had carried in the back pocket of her shorts. She stood in the middle of the road taking the time to fully calm the man before she moved his wheelchair back to the esplanade. She called out to the rest of us to wait for her to complete her mission and somehow we all obeyed in utter amazement. After getting the man to safety she went back and forth to her car brining him a bag of fruit, more water, and other items that must have been rattling around in her back seat. Then she reached for her wallet, counted out the bills that were inside, and gave everyone of them to him. Before leaving she hugged him once again and kissed him on his forehead. Then she turned to her stunned witnesses and extended her middle finger into the air. 

I drove off feeling moved and shamed. I had been angry at the unfortunate man only moments before. I had seen him as a nuisance and the woman had reminded me that he was a child of God no different from any of us sitting in our cars. There was no telling how or why his life had somehow gone awry but it was not for us to judge, only to respond. I thought of how Jesus would no doubt have helped this man just as this woman had done and I understood his teachings just a bit better in that moment.

The lady who had modeled the epitome of Christian behavior was not a woman of means. Her car was old and in need of repair and yet she had emptied her wallet and her heart for this stranger. She had shown the kind of compassion that Jesus admonished us all to demonstrate. I had been more concerned with preparing for a celebration of Easter in a very superficial way while she had shown us all what the life of Jesus had been all about.

We all too often forget the message that we were supposed to hear from the life of Christ. Over and over again he modeled a life of kindness, understanding, generosity. He was not worried about laws and rules but about the comfort of the very least among us. On this Holy Thursday we remember his last supper with his apostles When he predicted his own demise and asked that they teach the entire world how to live. There are many among us who are hungry, without clothes, sick, in prison. Just going to church and praying is meaningless if we ignore the cries of the suffering that are all around us. Perhaps now is the time to really follow Jesus and be like that woman who took the time to show a sick and confused man that someone cared. Let us see the poor, the sick, the suffering, the migrants and the prisoners in a different way. Let us solve our problems with love.