April 10, 2013

who is the least?

I have been so caught up in Matthew 25:31-46.  Needing to wrap my mind around what Jesus was saying here. And I was unable to understand in a way that fit in with the rest of what I knew to be true. Now finally... a bit of enlightenment.  I can breathe.

In this passage, Jesus identifies himself with the least.  Those that needed clothing and drink and food.  Jesus says that whoever gives clothing and food and drink to the least of these does so unto Him.  Okay, but what does this really mean?  What does he expect of me?  Does this mean that I have to spend every possible moment serving the poor?  Those "worse off" than me?  Because, let's face it, simply being a middle-class American puts me in the top 1% most wealthy in the world.  Regardless of how I feel, I am in a position to give a life-changing $5 to someone in need.

I started to feel weighed down, as if I weren't living well if I weren't pouring myself out for the disadvantaged.  And this thought exhausted me.  We have ministry that we are involved in both through our church and personally that keep us busy.  We also give money to a couple of different people or organizations that work with the third world countries, but our active involvement stops there.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus values this work, but I kept feeling like I was missing a HUGE piece here.

I was so focused on those who were seen as less than me.  Having less than me.  In doing so, I was making myself greater.  I'm putting myself on this pedestal as if I am something great.  When in reality, I don't feel that I have anything to offer.  I feel so inadequate to be an example to anyone, because I know that Jesus is the only true reason I have value.

So here I am, elevating myself and seeing how I can be "good" and serve the least.  Because it is commanded, right?

And again I read, he who is first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  And it hits me.  I am the least.

I am reading Jen Hatmaker's bible study, Interrupted.  And I must admit, I've been reading much of it through a critical eye.  Her writing style is difficult for me to follow (at least in this bible study format) and there are times I haven't agreed with what she has said, but this is mainly because I know it is about her journey and my place in my journey is simply different.  All that to say, it has sparked questions in me that I haven't addressed for quite some time.  It's challenged me to really understand what God is saying here and not assume that it is what I've been taught my whole life.  It's made me want to fully understand this text, even if it is just so I can figure out if I agree with Jen's opinion or not.  (I'm planning to do a review of her study when I'm finished.)

But through examining Matthew 25 and reading this Bible study and spending the past two weeks in mental turmoil and prayer over this passage, I fianlly realize that Jesus is identifying with me.  Compared to Him, I am the lowest of lows.  The chief of sinners, to quote Paul.  And suddenly I feel valued, knowing that when he cares deeply about the least, he is talking about me.  And his identification with me is what allows me to spend all eternity with Him.

I think as I was working through this I started to get this perspective that God cared more about the physically impoverished and poor than he did me.  This was completely wrong, which I know, which is why I felt such unrest about it.  But I feel like I now see that we are all the least.  And our command is to love the Lord first, and to love each other well second.  Because we are all valuable in God's eyes.  We all bear his image.  Nothing changes that.  Not race or nationality or wealth or education.

So when I am commanded to serve the least, yes, justice on this earth is important.  It is part of loving and being imitators of Christ.  I do think there is a level of responsibility to make right the things that grieve God.  It comes out of the overflow of my understanding that I, too, fall short but have received grace.  Just as important is the fact that I love and serve my neighbor well, regardless of their financial or social standing.  Because we all bear the image of God.  

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind.  And love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Let's love well, friends.

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