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The Least of These

The Good Samaritan, Netherlands, circa 1530 

Near the end of his life, Jesus gave several parables to His disciples in answer to their questions about His eventual return. The last of these tells of the sheep and the goats. It begins,

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: (Matthew 25:31-32)

He then goes on to define the sheep and the goats. To the sheep, set on his right hand and invited to partake of all the blessings of the Father, He says:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

The sheep are apparently confused by this, not remembering having served the Lord in any such way. Christ clarifies: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40; emphasis added)

The goats, who are dismissed and cursed, do the exact opposite. They ignore the hungry, the stranger, and the sick; they live their lives heedless of the needy or those in prison. And Jesus takes that personally, too.

Taking care of those in need is the only criterion Jesus gives for judging the nations. He does not mention whether we're on time for church or how many scriptures we've memorized. Also not mentioned are the size of our savings accounts or what our personal accomplishments are. Christ's recipe for eternal success is simple: take care of your neighbor. 

But who is my neighbor? Jesus answered that question with the parable of The Good Samaritan, recorded in the tenth chapter of Luke. Since Samaritans were hated and reviled by Jesus' initial audience, I think that this is a safe modern interpretation: my neighbor is anyone I encounter, particularly someone whom I may not like. The sullen teenager. The tattooed guy across the street. The bad driver in front of me at the intersection. The homeless man begging on the corner. The abused and/or neglected child. The mentally ill. 

"Love your enemies," Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount (recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7). Love the unlovable--that's not easy. It's easy (sometimes) to love our families and friends. It's not easy to love the disruptive kid with the runny nose; the smelly drunk man; the obese, hoarding shut-in who never thanks us when we stop by to say hello. The person who has brought his troubles on him or herself through poor choices. Yet we must love the unlovable, unless we wish to be judged a goat at the end of this life. 

As a mother, I often feel like my hands are full with daily, hourly clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and tending the sick. But when I consider things honestly, there is much more that I could do--and I vow to do so, today and going forward.

I am struck, though, by Jesus' wording in that first quote above: "And before him shall be gathered all nations." Nations obviously are comprised of individuals--but the definition of "nations" also includes the governments and social contracts those individuals enact. As a Christian doing my best to live up to the weighty responsibility implied in the name, I look to my society to augment my efforts in taking care of the poor, the needy, and the sick. I look not just to my church (which does a lot of humanitarian aid); not just to my community group. I look to my government. And when I do, I find a great lack. 

Take the mentally ill, for example--often some of the most unlovable among us. They need care, not just because they are also God's children (which should be reason enough), but because taking care of them helps keep us all healthier and safer. The events of last Friday's shootings in Newtown, Connecticut should be enough impetus for citizens to demand that our government make taking care of our mentally ill neighbors a priority--precisely because doing so is often beyond any one individual's capacity.

They need our help. Read this post by my friend, the talented writer Robison Wells. Read this post by the angry and frustrated mother of a troubled 13-year-old child. I read them both as calls to action--the kind of action Jesus has been requesting for a long, long time. At Christmastime, in the New Year, and always, let's find concrete, helpful, compassionate ways to help. 

Reader Comments (7)

You are such a good example to me. Something similar to this has been on my mind lately too, and I know I need to make personal changes.

December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenna Consolo


December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette

Beautiful post, however as far as I can tell our government does a very bad job of most everything they get their hands on these days. I'm just wondering if there is a better solution that turning it over to the (as I see them) heartless thugs and theives. I loved both the other posts as well. lots to think of right now but hoping for something better than a gov't knee jerk reaction. By the way I worked for years at a gov't run mental hospital it was a very very bad place.

December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDexter

Thank you, Luisa.

December 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth

Yes. And absolutely.

December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I've had the enlightening experience of helping a homeless woman over the last year and a half. Social Services has denied her applications of Medicaid twice. I took her to the office and spoke with the government worker. The woman has nothing, but they denied to help her. So the church paid for her room and board for a year and I spent time trying to help her get employment. She is mentally ill, but she refuses to get help. Helping her has been one of the most frustrating experiences. The programs available to her won't help her for bureaucratic reasons (she didn't have her divorce papers from 20 years ago) and she won't acknowledge her mental illness needs. The best experience I've had has been with a private community service group that she agreed to let her help find employmnt. The social worker truly cared and followed up when she broke her foot and ended up in the hospital. I think the only answer is for more efforts to include the loners in our communities and make the misfits accepted.

And for each person to do as you recommend and reach out to the least of our society. Be prepared, there are no easy fixes!

December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSage

So much to think about here. I agree 100%.

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDedee

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