“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.’” –Matthew 25:40
We sang a song in church today about ‘the least of these’. Those words made me uncomfortable. Who decides who qualifies as the least? Do the people we decide are the least know that they are least? Have we ever identified ourselves as the least?
I read an article about how we in the privileged groups ‘help’ the un-privileged. The article addressed the crisis in the Philippines as they try to recover from the typhoon that recently decimated many villages and displaced countless numbers of people. In the past, many well-meaning Americans have sent clothing items and products that actually hinder the recovery process. Stiletto heels, breast milk, worn-out lingerie backed-up limited storage, airfields and relief workers’ time as someone had to sort through all of that stuff. The article suggested that in times like this crisis, monetary donations to international relief organizations helped communities recover better because those organizations know the greatest needs that come with a large-scale recovery effort. Living through the aftermath of disasters (natural and man-created), we see clearly the least.
But, in all honesty as those living in American privilege, we define the least as those in physical poverty–especially international poverty. They are not us. In America, we help, we save, we fix–we rarely express need. Yet, given the mental health statistics and the plethora of counselors, therapists and psychiatrists in our country, we only bluff ourselves into believing we don’t need any help. Vulnerability requires that we expose our weaknesses and level the playing field with whomever we consider the least.
When we lived in Alabama, I taught several Bible studies for women in our church. Most of the women who came attended AA meetings and fought hard for their sobriety. A couple of them asked us to go to one of their annual meetings. Jud and I both point to that experience as what ‘church’ should look like. When Jud and I commented to a group of people we’d just met that we felt humbled and honored to be included by our friends, they looked sheepishly at the ground. They said that most people not in the program didn’t feel honored to be around them. One of my friends said to me in her gravelly, southern voice, “Maggie, I know you’re not an alcoholic woman; but you’re one of us.” Probably the highest compliment I’ve ever received. I knew I couldn’t ‘fix’ their alcoholism; but I could walk their path alongside them.
I could learn vulnerability from them.
I could learn how much I need what they had learned–how much I needed community.
I could learn how much I am the least.
The Message paraphrase of the Bible interprets the least as ‘someone overlooked or ignored.’ I like that description, because all of us fit into it. If we all fit into the description, perhaps we will empathize when we see someone or a group that churches or societies overlook and ignore.
I want to listen more before I jump to conclusions about what someone needs. Before I assess how to fix someone’s situation. I pray that people will not see me as their savior. I pray that people will see the love of Christ in me and be drawn to Him as their savior.
Who have you considered ‘the least’? How have you wanted to avoid being ‘the least’? When have you identified with ‘the least’?