First, I have to apologize for not making this site a priority. I am going to try and be better about posting on here, if for no one else I think it is a great practice to purposefully set out time to reflect on the service from the previous day.
As a new pastor, I still haven’t preached that much yet, so preaching twice in one day was taxing on me (and my wife as she had to travel to both places with me!). While yesterday really did take a lot of energy, I truly enjoyed the time spent with the loving body of Bethany and then with the connectional churches of Friendship, North Fayette and Ebenezer that evening for the joint thanksgiving service. I am going to share in two separate posts so they won’t be too overwhelming!
In the morning service, I talked about the passage from Matthew 25: 31-46 where Jesus talks about “doing to the least of these.” I shared a story about when I was driving back from Emory the other day and was on the ramp to enter I-85. This ramp has two lanes and there is a stoplight that allows one car to go each time it flashes a green light. So there we are, hundreds of cars inching along in the middle of rush hour, about 5:00. As we inch forward in the slow traffic, I notice a man with a sign on the side of the road up ahead that read, “hungry, anything will help.” This on-ramp is a common spot for people to come and ask for food and money as this man was doing, so I almost didn’t even notice. Earlier that day in chapel at Emory, the preacher had preached from the same text I am using today. The pastor, she emphasized over and over about doing to the “least of these.” As my car slowly approached the man ahead, I felt myself wondering what to do. Like so many today, I am ashamed to say that one of the first thoughts that entered my mind was, he probably just wants some money for alcohol. And while that may be the case for some, I couldn’t help but to hear that passage in my head from today, verse 40 that read, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
I think there is something important to that part of the passage that sometimes we choose to ignore. You see, in our culture, especially Christian culture, we make caveats and make extra rules that simply aren’t found in the Bible. I am guilty of this too. We see the person on the side of the road and have become so jaded by stories of people abusing charity that we ignore the needy altogether. We look at the person on the side of the road from the comfort of our warm cars and think how lazy they must be, how sad that they are an alcoholic or how silly to just sit there with a sign. Instead of looking into the face of the needy with compassion and sympathy, we add extra rules to the Bible to justify our own lack of compassion or our desire to take care of ourselves before anyone else.
But that is not what Jesus said in this passage today. He says, “Just as you did to the least of these… you did to me.”
The time was now, the man I had seen from 100 yards away with his sign asking for food was almost right beside me. I saw someone else a few cars up ahead of me hand him something, which he quickly stored in his bag then turned back to the line of cars with his sign in hand. I felt myself thinking, OK good, someone else helped him out. He will be fine. Then I again thought back to the passage from Matthew, which tells of two kinds of people, those who helped and those who didn’t help those in need. Finally, the man was beside my car and I could take it no more. I had to make a decision: am I going to help him or not? Am I going to trust others to take care of the needy in our community, or am I going to see Jesus in the face of the oppressed and hand him whatever I have?
That is the question for us in Matthew. Who do we see when we look into the face of the poor? That isn’t a rhetorical question; I really want you to take a minute to think about what you see when you see those who are without homes on the side of the road. I had an uncomfortable but honest conversation with God after I saw that man on the side of the road. The first thing I saw in this man was not the face of God. Why not? Why didn’t I see you, God?
If we look closely at the passage in Matthew, we realize that the first group of people Jesus describes doesn’t know what he is talking about? He tells them that they gave to him when he was needy; they fed him, gave him something to drink, clothed him, welcomed him in and took care of him when he was sick. They looked at him and said, yes we helped people… but when did we help you? Jesus answers, “when you do this for the least of these, you have done it for me.”
That is the point. Even though I don’t always see the face of Jesus in those who are needy, the fact is that they are still needy. There aren’t any other rules or stipulations Jesus mentions, he simply says feed, give them drink, clothe them, welcome them, heal them. Have compassion for all you see, do this as if you were doing it for me.
I was now beside the man on the ramp with the sign asking for anything to eat. With the passage of Matthew still fresh in my mind from chapel only a few hours earlier, I decided to roll down my window, letting in the cold air. I reached into the seat beside me where I had a pack of trail mix from my lunch I hadn’t eaten that day at school. I handed the pack to the man who said, “Thank you brother. God bless you. You don’t know how much this means to me. Thank you. Thank you!”
His profuse thanksgiving to me, genuine smile and beautiful eyes full of love struck me. Truly this was the face of Jesus.
I could not see his face clearly until I rolled down the window, took of my sunglasses, exposed myself and gave of what I had. As soon as I obeyed the call to do to the least of these, I saw the face of Jesus in that man.
My challenge to us all this week is that we would reflect God’s love to the needy. We give not to receive salvation; there is no price we can pay to enter the kingdom. Christ our King is looking for a people who are motivated by the love that flows from inside of them and spills out. By freely giving to “the least of these,” by showing compassion without extra rules or stipulations, in this way you will see the face of God in the needy, in this way, the needy can see the face of God in you.