It keeps coming to my attention that I have always had a problem associating with “the least of these,” though to many I am considered to be one of “the least of these.”
“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
I generally want to keep an arm’s length distance between them and me because I’m afraid that somehow their stupidity, disease, narrow-mindedness, extreme poverty or proclivity toward difficult life’s situations will somehow rub off on me and make my life of trying to “fit in” an even worse feat. And we all have at some point in time dissociated ourselves from those who in our minds are the least in comparison to our superior set of beliefs, our higher standard of living, our elite political affiliation or our seemingly safer side of the tracks.
Ironically, even though we’ve all been looked down upon by some other group or person who deems themselves superior to us and even though we know what it feels like to be ostracized from a group for not fitting in, even though we are very familiar with the sick pit of the stomach feeling for just not quite measuring up–we still hold others to our “higher” standard–silently judging them on the inside while parading a fake smile on the outside until they’re just out of ear’s distance and we are free to say what we really think about their inferiority compared to us.
Those we considered to be the “least of these” yesterday may not be the ones we deem “least of these” today. Life experience tends to shape our opinions about who makes the cut as being acceptable in our sphere of influence at the moment. We habitually lean toward surrounding ourselves by people who make us feel better about ourselves. We will hang out with people who have a little less than us so that we can feel superior about having more but not be burdened by feeling the pressure of having to help them in a big way. We can feel better about associating ourselves with those who have more than us, but most often those relationships can only be sustained if we anticipate there is something to gain.
I’ve been visiting new churches for a few weeks. I’ve never attended a church without having been employed by the church. Meaning, I’ve never had to choose a church based on any other decision but the fact that they were employing me as a musician. I really feel a leaning to take my children to a church where everything will be spoon fed to them, where they will have exciting activities, be fully engaged with the latest technology and exposed to at least the “higher” of arts–whatever that really means.
But today we visited a neighborhood church where none of the above was true and I felt like I was among “the least of these” in some part of my wretched heart. And I WAS one of “the least of these” because my children were not behaving and there was no formal childcare or children’s program to make me feel human and well put together, once my children were out of sight and out of mind. In fact, there were only about ten people in attendance, mostly older people. There was one little girl who was kind of floating around the sanctuary. She invited my children to go back to the “play” room and watch T.V. I told her that I wanted them to stay in the sanctuary (because apparently there was going to be no adult back there).
Then finally after Sunday School was over (I didn’t realize it was Sunday School at the time), two older women took the children back (one other child had arrived eventually) to the play room. I stayed with my youngest (a little over a year old) and then when he finally would not keep quiet, I went to the back with my children and one of the ladies struck up a conversation with me.
She described her life as if she was telling a story where she understood that her character was THE “least of these” written into the details without her consent. Having grown up with Colitis as a young girl she eventually had to get a colostomy. The doctors told her she would never be able to have children because of that, but she ended up having two children anyway. She gave God the credit. She went on to say that because of all her physical ailments that she also has problems with her brain so she was never able to finish school. She said that she was still praying for God to heal her, that her condition is much better, but that she still hopes for complete healing and that if God could heal blind eyes back then that surely he can heal her now. She said that many people stop by the church, receive healing and then never come back. Apparently her son was in a could-have-been deadly wreck recently but God spared his life. She said that she gets up at 5am every morning to pray, that she prays for all those she knows who are in need.
Somehow I felt like God was saying, “I am here.” “I am anywhere you are that feels small.” “I know that you want to live a comfortable life, feel good about yourself as a person, rub shoulders with those who shine, but this is where I am. If you really want to find me, you’ll find me among the “least of these.” “You keep saying you want to find me but you already have and whatever you do for the least of these you will have done for me.”
But no God. This does not feel good. I do not feel superior here. I feel strangely in and out of my element at the same time. Why haven’t you healed this woman yet? Why have you not changed my heart so that I don’t look down on people of her kind, people of my kind. Her faith is so much stronger than mine. I’m sure she’ll be praying for me tonight before she goes to bed. I prayed for her too, already– that she won’t be so pitiful, so pitifully trusting in you. Why do I want to run away from this, away from her? Why do I want my children to have more and be more? What is the more I’m trying to have them be? And if we’re all trying to climb our ladders, who will be there ministering to those at the bottom who could never ever “fit in” where I’m more comfortable trying to fit in? Why can’t you just make all this sickness, all this dumb brained poverty pant sag-gin’ sub culture just go away so that we can all feel good about where we’re going and where we hope to end up? And God, where are you when I feel like the least and when she knows for sure she’s the least but is still willing to pray for others, encourage others and have hope that you’ll heal her completely?
Surely you’ll have mercy on us all because we are all “the least” among the counterparts of who we’re trying to become–sick of heart, downright mean people who always look down on others. Most certainly you have compassion on those of us who are first now, compared to those who seem to be last but who are closer to your heart because they know suffering and can’t seem to catch a break. Are these, this woman who feels like the last, who I judge as even further back in the line than I am, are these the ones who you say will be first when your Kingdom finally comes? And am I really willing to completely let go of what others think just so I can be the last in order to earn first place?
And as we left the church, the other little girl told my girls that she hopes that they come back because she is usually all by herself–no other children.
And as I told the pastor about where I previously attended church, he invited me to come back and sing for them without any reserve about whether I would be “good enough” for their taste or not.
I was the least of THEM.