Thursday, October 22, 2015

Loving the least--who are the least? Sometimes it's you and me

Jesus calls us to do for the least--that by doing for them, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40)--and He also calls us to love our neighbors. When asked, "Who is our neighbor?", Jesus responded with the well-known story of the Good Samaritan.  In that story, the man from Samaria stopped to help a badly injured victim of a violent mugging. The Samaritan wasn't just a stranger, or a foreigner; as a Samaritan, he would have been a natural enemy of the Jewish man. But not only did he stop to help, he took the man to a place for care, paid the bill and gave an open check to cover the rest of the costs. Big help and charity, indeed, especially when considering the victim's own people crossed the road to avoid him.

The Apostle Paul gives us a life-changing definition of love in Corinthians, helping us to see that love is not all about how we feel, but about how we treat people. It isn't enabling either. Jesus shows through countless examples that His love could aid someone but didn't necessarily enable their behavior and choices (in John 8, when telling the mob to drop their rocks as they set to stone the adulterous woman, He saved her but also advised her to leave her life of sin.)

In our society we tend to confuse words like love and tolerance. We mix up helping and enabling. We fear holding someone (and being held) accountable in case we are casting the first stone of judgement. One can love without allowing a continuance of harmful sin. We can help without enabling. We can hold accountable as long as we are also prepared to be so held. Jesus shows us how, over and over.

And that brings me back to my opening scripture, one that we chose as the tagline of this blog. "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ~ Matthew 25:40. And the story of the Samaritan.

Who are the least? Jesus gives a list from verse 31: the sick, hungry, thirsty, prisoners and strangers.
We might find it easy to show love and charity to the first few of that list: but prisoners and strangers?  Foreigners? People who choose to break laws?  Illegals? Drug dealers? Are they what we consider needy and the least? Or does the word least mean something more? Maybe it means something deeper than simply considering those who have less than us in terms of money or possessions. Maybe it also means those with the least to lose, the least respect, the least honor, the least favorable past, the least to love.

I think we all have someone on a list of 'least' that we feel justified to put there and to not love. For some it's the ultra poor. For others it's the ultra wealthy. Or criminals, illegal immigrants, people of opposing politics, drug dealers or addicts, welfare cheats or folks with poor ethics, shady lawyers and corrupt businesses; for some, the 'least' are people of different religions or races or sexual orientation. How can we love them? Well, we might never feel warm and fuzzy kind of love about some of them. But we can take from the examples of Jesus: to change things. You see, He does have the warm-feeling kind of love for them, and He would stop to help each and every one of them. Sure, He might tell them to change their situation and He would show them how, giving them the tools or the strength or courage. And maybe sometimes, you and I are the least. The least compassionate or merciful, the least understanding. And maybe we need His guidance to get past that.

I get disheartened when I see my Christian friends bashing the 'least'. Heck, I do it too. I am not a fan of some people either. Sometimes nor was Jesus: He had a thing or two to say to the Pharisees!  But His goal was to change things. Not to belittle or mock or spread hatred. How can we change our behavior towards and about the least so that we reflect the life-changing love of Jesus Christ to them and to those watching? If our goal is to grow the Kingdom by directing the least to the love of Jesus so He can do His life-changing work, how do we do that? Only with love, surely? Non-enabling kindness, compassion, courage, patience, teaching, mercy, humility. And when that's too hard, turn to the Source of it all. He might not step in to fix the situation, but He might step in to fix your heart.

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