37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
I was not a particularly athletic kid, but on the playground, I did my share of hanging upside down from the monkey bars. From that vantage point, the world looked very strange, with the green grass up and the blue sky down. When I read the gospels, I get the sense that this is the world Jesus lived in. It seems like he was constantly asking the disciples (and us) to stand on our heads in order to see the world through different eyes.
For example, take this passage from the end of Jesus’ famous parable of the sheep and the goats. If you recall the story, it’s about those who choose to respond to the world’s needs – to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, poor, or in prison – and those who do not.
It’s so easy for us to walk by people. I will confess that every time I cross the Ben Franklin Bridge headed toward the Vine Street Expressway, I try not to make eye contact with the men panhandling at the intersection. “I never have any cash anyway,” I reason. “And eye contact will just suggest I have something to give.” In that moment, I choose to ignore the real people standing in front of me.
Jesus, in this passage, says very specifically that when you ignore the person in front of you, it’s just like you’re ignoring him. And conversely, to those who choose to help, he says, “Just as you have done it for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”
In other words, Jesus shows up in the faces where we least expect to find him. He shows up in all the places where we did not anticipate him. And so in that moment, he turns our understanding of “the least” completely on its head.
There is a famous statue of Jesus as a man sleeping on a bench that’s been installed in various churches around the world as a reminder of who “the least” actually are. Homeless Jesus is a reminder of Jesus’ alternative way of looking at the world – that those we consider the least are great in God’s eyes. To serve them is to serve Christ himself.
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
When you visit a city and encounter people experiencing homelessness, what’s an alternative approach to the interaction that doesn’t involve just ignoring the person in front of you?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, remind us always that in every human we meet, we come face to face with you. Give us the eyes to see this, and help us to respond accordingly. Amen.