Have you ever had the same bible story or passage come up repeatedly in different settings over a short period of time? Like hearing a story on an add on Christian Radio, then having a rabbit trail at Bible study bring the same story to light again, and then having the pastor at church talking about the same passage a week later in church. It is noticeable when it happens and leads me to do some self-searching to figure out why? What lesson is God trying to bring to my attention? What do I need to learn from the passage? How can I apply it to my life?
Lately, it has been the passage found in Matthew 25.31-46. Jesus is talking about when He takes his place on the throne and He separates the masses in front of Him into two groups. He invites those on His right to come to their reward and similarly sends the group on His left to their eternal punishment. Both groups are a little confused by the criteria that the King has used to separate them. He had said in verse 35-36 to those whom he welcomed “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.’” And said the opposite for the group that he sent to punishment. Both groups asked “when did we see these things” and the King replies (vs 40 and 45) “Truly, I say to you, as you did it (or didn’t) to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it (or didn’t) to me.”
Now I have heard this story many times before – I thought I has a good grasp on the point – notice those around you, help those in need and shine Jesus light on the weak, poor and marginalized. It could look very valiant – serving in a soup kitchen, giving out money or food to those holding signs at exit ramps, gutting houses that flooded, volunteering at Feed My Starving Children, or many other noble causes. But then I listened to a song I’ve listened to many times before. This time one particular line hit me hard. The song is “This World” written by “Caedmon’s Call”.
Did you hear the lyric neatly tucked away in the bridge of this song? At about the 2:06 mark is the line “… the least of these look like criminals to me So I leave Christ on the street“. That thought shakes me up a bit. We tend to default to the adage “God helps those who help themselves”. So we are ready and willing to help those who in all humility are asking for some help from those of us that “have it together”. That’s when we act. But first of all, we don’t really have it all together. We are all fallen and flawed people trying to navigate life through our own issues. To think differently is to lie to ourselves.
And the heart of the Matthew passage, I believe is resonated in the above lyric. We are to show God’s love, compassion and helpfulness to everyone from the greatest to the least. And the least may very well be people that are not asking for help, and may even look to hurt us or take advantage of us if given the chance. I ask you, who is the one with the greatest need to encounter a forgiving savior? A humble, broken person looking for any help they can get, or an unrepentant convicted rapist or murderer? The answer is they both have the same great need to encounter the Jesus of the Bible. And their need matches our need for Him too. As believers, we are His chosen representatives in our world tasked to “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19) So what do we do with that?
It is so easy for us to pass judgment on others and determine for ourselves who is worthy of our help and attention. But the verse in Matthew 25 makes no such distinction. Instead, it identifies those in need as the “least of these” which suggests those at the bottom of our “worthy” list. What does that mean? Well, allow me to draw your attention to another lyric from a different song – “Leaving Jesus” by Send the Beggar.
at 2:23 they sing
“I won’t treat my witness like some kind of sickness, I won’t make the beggars think You think they’re lepers. I’ll leave Your life near them (repeat)
And they don’t call me Jesus but I leave your name everywhere I go. I prove that You’re here by being here, like tracks in the snow
And they don’t call me Jesus, but I leave your name like bleeding fingerprints. but the blood that I leave says more than these, these words upon my lips.”
The message is clear, our actions speak louder than our words. We pour ourselves out for others to know Him. This is the task that we have been given. We share the truth of the Gospel, even if it falls on the ears of mockers. We don’t judge who is worthy to know Christ, but we remember that we, ourselves, are not worthy of the gift of His grace. And we ask for His eyes to see His beloved creation so we can be blinded to our prejudice and self-importance. In doing so, we extend God’s loving, forgiving arms of grace to the lost that He loved enough that He died for. May we have a true perspective of our own need for a Savior as we offer ourselves to serve those He came to save. Doing so leads to eternal reward, failing to do so leads to eternal punishment. It seems like He takes this pretty seriously, I guess we should too.