Week 1: Christ is in the least of these
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Wednesday, 17 February 2016; Texts: Matthew 25:31-40; Deuteronomy 24:14-15, 17-22
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This parable is almost too familiar to us.
We can recite it all. We know what Jesus says. We’re to care for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, strangers. When we do, we do it to Christ.
Except we’re missing something. These first ones, blessed by the King, didn’t know they were doing anything special or significant. In caring for “the least of these,” they were doing what was normal for them. When they saw hungry people, or had strangers show up, they welcomed them. They fed them. Had they known it was their King, it wouldn’t have changed their behavior.
That’s the powerful thing. Could we be so shaped that we know and act instinctively as if all people are our responsibility? Our political landscape is so dominated by people pandering to Americans’ self-interest, it’s stunning to realize how central the opposite view is to Christ.
We shouldn’t be talking about people in need as if we don’t know what’s right, or discussing the problems of society as if we can debate whether we should care or should act. If our priorities were aligned with Christ our King, they’d be set already. It would simply be a matter of deciding what action would actually accomplish them.
When we criticize other Christians, we’re missing the log in our own eyes.
Rather than bemoan all the Christians who seem to delight to exclude pretty much everyone on Christ’s “least of these” list, we need to look more critically at ourselves. Are we sure we live like those in the first group? Remember, it came naturally to them. They cared for people because that’s who they were.
If we want to be them, we need to have our “normal” changed. We need to learn new patterns. We begin, according to Deuteronomy and Jesus, by remembering who we are.
Remember you also were aliens, the “other,” Moses says.
The people are on the verge of the Promised Land. They’ve wandered in the wilderness forty years, aliens, exiles. And now, in the laws they are given in the Torah, they are told dozens of times that in the Promised Land they’re to care for the aliens among them, and the widows and orphans.
Why? Because: that’s who you were.
Israel is commanded to live with a perpetual remembrance of their wilderness wandering, to hold in their minds their nomadic life, their flight from slavery, their rescue by God. To remember forever they were unwelcome. We’re a nation of immigrants, but every immigrant group seems to forget that once they’re settled. That’s what Israel’s warned to avoid.
But the vulnerable are also part of Moses’ command. The “widows and orphans” are included with the aliens dozens of times, those on the fringes with no protectors, and no room for error.
How many of us have ancestors, or people we know we can call to mind, who once struggled this way, unwelcome, poor, hungry, alone, rejected? How many of us have struggled, needed help, wanted someone to look to us and make a difference? Moses says we can’t be who God desires us to be as long as we forget we also are people who have needed others’ help in more ways that we can count.
Second, remember you are followers of the king, Jesus says.
Everyone in this parable follows Christ the King. Some care for “the least of these.” Some do not. But all, all, want to serve their King.
Hearing this calls to mind our true identity: we are made into Christ, children of God, we belong to our Lord and have committed to follow him. We see here people who didn’t know how to act into their identity and people who acted simply because it was their identity.
If we need our normal changed, if we need our identity transformed, we need the grace of the Holy Spirit.
When the Spirit changes us, we see differently, act differently.
Filled with the Spirit, we see God’s anointed in those in need, those different from us, those who struggle.
Living in our true identity, we can no more ignore the cries of the poor than we can turn away from our God. We can no more pretend the disgrace of our nation’s prisons isn’t our problem than we can pretend we’ve never heard of Jesus. We who love Christ will clothe those who need it because that’s who we are, care for those who are sick because that’s who we are. That’s who the Spirit makes us.
There is another mystery in this, too.
When we serve others in love we serve our King. When we look into the eyes of another we see Christ. We see Christ.
So we can expect they will bless us as Christ in return. Knowing the other, the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the sick, the naked, is knowing Christ. So they will be Christ to us. What if we lived in the world as Christ expecting to see Christ and be blessed as well?
It’s good Moses and Jesus remind us of our core being, who we were – beggars before God – and who we are – children of God.
They cut through the rhetoric and tell us it’s all very simple and always has been: God cares for the vulnerable, the weak, the lost, the frightened, the oppressed. If we, as God’s people, shaped by the Spirit, want to be with God, that’s where we’ll be.
Because when we see Christ in others, we get to see Christ. What greater joy could we hope for?
In the name of Jesus. Amen