“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and You came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You…?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.’”
- Matthew 25:34-37a, 40
Some days simply don’t go as planned. No doubt, you’ve had similar days. However, well-thought-out your schedule, something goes sideways, and you find yourself scrambling to get back on track. I’m not talking about a major catastrophe, just one thing after another occurs until the day you thought you were going to have has morphed into something entirely different. Frustrating, that…
That was my Good Friday this year, and I can’t even tell you how it got whompyjawed. Finally, hot and dirty from mowing and edging the front lawn (saving the back for Saturday), I picked up a rotisserie chicken and couple of other items from the grocery store, and at about 8:30 p.m. I was waiting beside my truck while the car next to me was being loaded with those folks’ groceries. What I was not doing was Good Friday worship at the church as planned earlier. As I leaned on my basket, I was listening to a podcast lecture on the Gospel of John and texting when I realized there was a man on a bike beside me, babbling ninety-to-nothing. And I knew… he wanted help.
Generally speaking, I don’t mind helping out people who approach me, but again – hot and dirty, also hungry and tired. All I could think was, “Really? Man, there are 300 cars in this parking lot, and you picked me? Is there anything about me that mistakenly appears friendly? Do I not look busy to you?” So, I paused the podcast, apologized that I hadn’t heard a single, dadgum word he’d spoken, and asked him what he'd said. In rushing, nervous chatter, he repeated his request for help getting groceries. At best, I grudgingly agreed, probably without bothering to smile, and told him to go pick out groceries totaling the sum I was willing to spend. Then, I restarted the podcast and turned back to my text.
The guy didn’t move. He just sat there on his bike. Pausing the lecture again, I turned and told him to go ahead and get his groceries, I’d meet him at checkout. What I was thinking was, “Dude, can you not see I’m busy? I’m texting my sister that brisket’s on sale!” As he rode off to the entrance, I rolled my eyes, flipped the podcast on yet again, and finished my text before putting my own groceries into my truck. To appreciate the situation fully, I must confess that I was listening to a lecture on the Passion of Christ in John 18-19.
Oh, the irony… I was standing in the parking lot, waiting to load my groceries, listening to an exposition on Jesus’ final hours, and texting my sister about the price of brisket. No, we certainly wouldn’t want to interrupt such exalted activity with hunger or need. Almost as clearly as if He were standing beside me, I “heard” Jesus say, “as surely as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me.”
A scene from the movie Bruce Almighty, in which Morgan Freeman played the role of God, came to mind. Off to the side of the last scene, a beggar with a sign warning that end was coming morphed into God’s/Morgan Freeman’s face. That’s how I felt – as if I’d just rudely blown off a beggar in whom the face of Christ was hidden, and I was so ashamed.
Our tendency is to sanitize this passage on the final judgment into food pantries, hospitals, organized ministries, and cash donations – all of which are important. But the reality is that the needy, the hungry, the sick and dying, and the prisoner are all around us. Sometimes, they are us. We have hundreds of measures by which to determine the value of a person, some obvious and some simply reflexive. Have you ever been approached for help by someone who hasn’t bathed recently? Oh. My. Word.
There is so much hurt in our world – visible in myriad forms, and the only illusion we hold is that of ranking brokenness by merit, our own being the most worthy. Because I wasn’t in worship on Good Friday, I was righteously immersed in the Passion of Jesus Christ through the podcast, and the interruption of my virtuous engagement irritated me. It was a ‘don’t bother me, Jesus, I’m busy being religious’ moment. If you’ve never had that happen to you, you probably ought to pay closer attention. For religion is easy, but discipleship is hard.
It is surely true that we, God’s children, need constant reassurance, encouragement, and most of all, communion with the Godhead through the Spirit Who dwells in us. But there is nothing Christ-like about receiving grace and mercy, new life and a fresh start, then not offering the same to everyone we meet. If we know ourselves to be saved by grace, not by works, then we should be the first to extend grace to others. Once, we were the undeserving, but Christ died for us. How can we possibly see anyone else as undeserving?
When I was young, I liked to look in the mirror – to check every little spot or blemish in hopes of removing or covering it. I tried fixing my hair in different ways, and I experimented with more or less makeup of this or that type and color. As I age, I am not nearly as interested in looking at my face in the mirror, which has nothing to do with being less vain. What matters, though, is not the outer appearance, but who we see in the reflection of the eyes of Jesus Christ. There we begin to see clearly who we are in His immeasurable love and in His certainty that amazing things are possible. There we also see our Lord’s profound disappointment in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
We are not more deserving as Christians, because we are only made righteous by God’s will and determination to save us, not by anything we have done or not done. The love of God is unfathomable – that He would tolerate, even expect, such selfishness and such sanctimoniousness from the children He adopted into His family as His own. Ultimately, we are beggars before the throne of God, unworthy, undeserving, but beloved, nonetheless.
Walking back into the store, I prayed that I would treat the man with respect, as is fitting for the Image of God. Standing in the checkout line, the man began to tell me how Jesus had saved him on the battlefield (and indeed, his arm was mangled by scars I hadn’t noticed in the dark parking lot) and how Jesus still takes care of him and watches out for him. Inwardly, I groaned, for this man wasn’t just any beggar, he was my brother in Jesus Christ. I could hardly stand to look him in the eye for fear of the reflection of myself that I would see.
We are brought to life in the heart of God, given His own Spirit so we can participate in the divine nature. When each one of us takes seriously the light and life of God within us, we can impact the world around us with amazing goodness and unimaginable blessing. We carry the presence of God everywhere we go, and if He is not visible in us, then it is because we do not want Him to be.
Whatever our worldly circumstances, we each were once the beggar. Having been found and fed the Bread of Life then clothed in the white robes of the Kingdom, I pray we will look for Christ in every person, not only those with whom we are comfortable. More importantly, I pray that we will have the courage to look at our reflection through the eyes of “the least of these.”
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
© 2022 All Rights Reserved.