31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25: 31-46
Driving down I-30 last week I got a flat tire. Not a regular flat tire either. It was violently flat. The kind of flat that makes you think that driving in the far left lane was a bad idea. The kind of flat that causes you to stop and park, not on the shoulder, but in the awkward triangle between the on ramp and the rest of the high way. The kind of flat tire that causes you to sit next to your (already declared totaled) car and contemplate whether you would rather change it or construct a tent out of the contents of your back seat and start a near life as a highway hobbit. These are the things rolling through my mind when a beat-up white pickup truck rolls up next to me. Four men get out and change my tire, saying very little to me, besides “It’s nice to meet you.”
I was preaching at a church the day after Christmas. I had already done the first service (of about 6) and I was a little nervous about tackling the second service with its giant sanctuary of people I had never met (very different from our little sanctuary filled with people who would adopt me if given the chance). There was a man smoking a cigarette on the porch of the church and when I walked past him he asked about my weekend and my Christmas. We talked for a while about Christmas and breakfast burritos and how kick-ass our moms were. I don’t think you will be able to understand the kind of feeling I got from hearing about this man’s kick-ass mother and getting to tell him about my kick-ass mother. Nor do I think you will understand how absolutely necessary to the story it is that I tell you exactly how he talked about his mother instead of telling you about how “super cool” his mom was. But I do think you will understand that meeting that man, even though he was the only one I had met when I went to preach for that second service, made me feel at home and a lot better.
This isn’t really a third scenario, but it is a separate observation. Often people in the Church feel like it is their mission, their calling to minister to those who do not know God or believe in God or care if there is a God. We pray for them and talk to them and try to improve their lives, because we are Christians and so we have this magical ability to fix them and their lives. Although this is not entirely wrong, and it is not the worst approach we can have to people who don’t believe the same things we do, I would like to say something on the matter. Some of my friends who are not Christians, some of my friends who don’t believe in a god, some of my friends who don’t feel like they believe in anything at all, have shown me what it means to love others and care for others more than you will ever know. They have been miraculously there for me at my worst moments when they didn’t have a clue that moment was my worst. They have taught me more than I would have ever thought and have helped me grow in my faith without even knowing it.
When we read from Matthew 25, we usually look at it as “It is my job to help the world.” And sometimes this leads to a sanctimoniousness that draws us away from helping and loving people. Because we are called, and so we a re better than any one else. But do we lose sight of how lesser we really are? We are the Least of these. We are the ones left on the side of the road, even though we are on our way to a board meeting of important laypersons. We are the ones who need someone to talk to us on a smoke break, even though we are about to preach for the same person. We are the ones who need to be loved, even though we think we can love in one direction–out.
It’s sometimes harder to let someone love you and help you than it is to love or help someone. But we become so much more capable to do the latter when we allow others to love and help us. Because loving someone doesn’t just make them special to you–it makes them special to themselves and to the world. Being loved is a transformation that is so often taken for granted or overlooked. Love is a moving force in our lives that changes us for the better. And by refusing the love of someone because we feel that we don’t need it, we are only refusing ourselves a chance to become Somebody Loved. As much as we believe we are called to help others, why don’t we also believe that we need help from others? As much as we believe we are called to love others, why don’t we allow others to love us also? Just stop running away or brushing others off. We are all only a “stitch away from making it, and a scar away from falling apart.” And on this brink, a life-saving stitch can come from the most unlikely source. It can come from those you thought you were sent to stitch together.