… Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
It’s unusual for me to include a Bible quote in a post. I haven’t done it more than a short handful of times in the whole history of this blog. I’m no Bible scholar, no theologian–not even a Christian–and I’d rather not confuse anyone on that point.
But the Bible is filled with beautiful philosophy presented in beautiful language, and every so often the urge to share my thoughts on something I’ve heard strikes me.
So it is with this verse today. I heard this secondhand a few weeks ago, and the phrasing stuck with me. Who are the least of these, I asked myself, and what must I do for them?
At first blush, it seems obvious: the least of these are the poor and marginalized around me, and I must help them in whatever way I can–feed them, give them clothes and money, help them find a roof to sleep under when they can’t find one for themselves.
But we do a pretty good job in this country of making sure people don’t starve in the streets. We do a pretty good job making sure they have places to go to find food and clothing and shelter. Maybe it’s more than that.
What about battered women and abused children? Certainly having to flee for your life from the one you love renders you among the least of these? Of course, the courage that step takes simultaneously makes you one of the greatest of these. And there are plenty of people caring for these women and their children much better than I could.
What about children in general? Does my work with Scouts and as a teacher at my church count as service to the least of these? But my Scouts and the teens I work with at church are hardly marginalized; they come from good neighborhoods and have strong role models, and many of their families are well off. Maybe my work with them will help keep them grounded so they can become productive adults. But it’s hard to argue they are among the least of these.
What about the people I work with through Discovery? Certainly the people who walk through those doors–lost, emotionally broken, many of them substance abusers–could be counted among the least of these? But many of them have resources, or have family with resources. It’s not like helping them makes me a social worker.
I could make the least of these a political statement. I could say Black Lives Matter and stand up against police corruption. I could say Blue Lives Matter and stand up against the violence that has been directed against our police in the last couple of weeks. I could stand for unborn children, or for the mothers-to-be who find themselves in the agonizing position of deciding what to do about a child they don’t want or can’t raise. I could stand for workers whose jobs have been taken by illegal immigrants, or I could stand for the people who came to this country for the opportunity, who chose to cross the border illegally rather than wait years for a visa that might never come, who live in hiding and fear of what might happen if they’re discovered. I could stand for protecting our country from those who might try to infiltrate as refugees and destroy us, or I could stand for those who have been forced out of their homes, whose lives have been turned upside down by civil war and anarchy and whose choices seem to lie between staying where they are and dying or begging for refuge in a land where a significant portion of the population doesn’t want them.
Come to think of it, if I define it broadly enough, I can group pretty much anybody among the least of these. We’re all human, after all, and we all have our failures and weaknesses and fears that keep us awake at night. Many are more immediate than others–but that doesn’t make the others less real.
Maybe doing the best I can to help as many as I can, whether it’s by feeding the poor or helping the emotionally broken see their own worth or teaching a twelve-year-old to light a fire or sharing my words here, is really the point. Maybe doing for the least of these is as simple as doing what I can, where I can.
Maybe it’s really just about not ignoring the human beings all around me. Maybe recognizing that each of them is hurting and incomplete and needs more love, and working to share my love with them, is enough.
I don’t know. Maybe someday, I will. Until then, I think I’ll try loving–and not worry so much about who deserves it.