If I close my eyes, her vivid image appears. She sits, destitute, outside the SPAR supermarket. Skin wrinkled and leather-like, she has been in the sun too long. Her life has become reduced to a tiny meal here. Perhaps there is a smoke there. And, in the end, a cup of cold water?
Her story seems to jump onto center stage when we think about ‘the least of these’. Jesus’ words echo in the Gospel of Matthew: ‘As you have done unto the least of these, so have you done unto me.’
In every country, on many street corners, we have opportunities to live out Jesus’ words. And this we must do. But is Jesus saying something more than this?
I will give another example, this one very personal. When I was strapped to a foreign hospital bed, my battle with bipolar disorder raging, I was the one poor in spirit, ‘the least of these’. I think of those who ministered to me. They sat by my bed and love poured through their eyes. They read to me, prayed with me, brought me food and just simply listened. I have no doubt they were heeding Jesus’ command to do unto the least of these as is done unto Him.
Then there are those who issue great challenge, but no less fit into the category of the least. It’s the teammate who is covering their pain with a hardness that causes friction all around. Their story is unharvested, untold. Inside they are begging for someone to give of themselves in time spent together or a listening ear. Yet, they remain alone, naked, in need of the covering of grace.
As with any command of Jesus, there are nuances which can only be understood by deep heart connection with Him. We need to learn to see with His eyes, hear with His ears, love with His heart.
Because until we can see Him in all of these examples, we may win battles but lose the war. We may get that meal for a stranger in Jesus’ name but then hate our brother or sister in our heart. We may become so busy with ministry, we have no time for the poor. And so, we miss it. The challenge of ‘the least of these’ is lost to us. We have given here but held back there and so short-changed the One who deserves everything.
Taking one aspect of this, it has been said the number one reason missionaries leave the field is conflict with other missionaries. This should be heart-breaking to us. Something is wrong when our ability to love is not enough. All of the arduous journey to get overseas is cut short. It’s tragic.
But what if our lens begins to change? What if we start to see our difficult teammate in the same way we see the person asking for money outside the store? In the same way Jesus sees both of them. What to one person is a few coins given in love, is to the other a service done from the genuine affection of our heart. How different would our relationships, teams, families look if we lived like this?
Then too, we must learn, as I did so broken, helpless and frail in that Hungarian hospital bed. At times we become the least who need the compassion of others. When our pride is laid down, we are each naked in our vulnerability as we experience so many things which break us. We must learn to remain in our nakedness, exposing our hearts, so that others may cover us, love us, be Jesus to us.
Who are ‘the least of these’? It’s her. It’s him. It’s me. It’s you. But most, it’s our Savior who calls us to live like Him. And he enables us to do so because every morning is grace which covers, every blessing is water which quenches, and every bit of love is food which satisfies. He is perfectly to us what He would have us be to others.