The least of these

St Mary's Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, East 15th Street, Manhattan
Yesterday's Gospel reading for the Daily Office is the famous one from Matthew (Matt. 25: 31-46) we tend to label "the least of these." Jesus indicates a coming judgment into which people will be sorted into two groups - those who fed, clothed, cared for, visited the least of these and those who didn't. His point is that caring or not caring for the least in society (the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry and thirsty) is the same as caring or not caring for Jesus himself.

Who among us is not convicted when we read this passage?

As I read this passage yesterday morning, I thought about the homeless people I passed on the street in Manhattan last week.  I thought about the people who are calling our church in record numbers this week (in the relentless heat) for assistance. I thought about the sad, sad story of sexual abuse by a man employed by Penn State.

I continued to think about it all day. At first I was dismayed about those I had not helped. Then I remembered some whom I did help. I found myself all over the map, emotionally.

While I was able to help a guy get some lunch one day in New York, and I authorized discretionary funds this week to be given to house a family for a few days until their long-term housing comes through, I always live in the tension between caring too much (and driving myself crazy) and caring too little (so I won't have to think about it). It's easy to get discouraged. There is always so much need. And we find ourselves playing judge (does this person deserve help?) even though it's clear in the Scriptures that Jesus is the judge, not us.  And that none of us deserve anything.

I don't think it's bad to live in this tension. I don't think we need to resolve the tension so we will feel better. There are times when we have the capacity to feed and clothe and visit and there are times when we don't. We don't have to single-handedly save the world. That's Jesus' job. What's important is that we don't stay in the place of "can't" for too long. Others can take up the slack when we can't.

So long as we don't always think others will help. We have to make space for others to work with God to care for God's people (again, we don't save the world ourselves), but that doesn't mean we don't do our part.

And what is our part? Some folks work on changing underlying systems. Some folks just hand out a cup of water. Both are needed. Both are showing love and care.

I expect it's most important to try to keep these verses in mind and let them stay there - to encourage me and also to convict me. Jesus identified with the least of these. Serving them is how we serve Jesus. Let me always remember that, Lord, as I discern daily what that looks like in my life wherever I am.


June Butler said…
What a good post, Penny. Certainly, I am called to account each time I read the passage in Matthew. How do we find our way through doing what we can and not driving ourselves crazy about what we can't do? We live in the tension and follow as God leads us as best we can.
Thanks, Mimi. Some of us think we're always supposed to get an "A." Which makes life hard.