The Least of These

He came up to me in a coffee shop. It seemed as if he walked into the building just to come talk to me. He smelled of alcohol, body odor, and cigarettes. He wore old, tattered clothes, complete with worn-out New Balance shoes. His language was terrible; his fingernails brown. Onlookers within the coffee shop stared as he and I spoke in the middle of the room. I couldn't tell if he was a little "off," or if he was drunk at 8 am. He kept telling me he needed money for a hotel room. As he spoke, I felt so uncomfortable.

He was angry (I kept having to tell him to quiet his voice). He told me he was a veteran and was now on the streets, homeless. He didn't say why. In my mind, I was mulling over the validity of his every statement, "Is he really a veteran or is he using this to try and get money?" I wrestled with these thoughts as I felt the stares of the rest of the coffee shop, still trying to listen to him. After all, any commitment from me to help him would mean dropping my schedule. Then, he said something that I connected with:

It's 30 degrees outside. I just spent the night on the street. Just give me some money so I can get some sleep and a shower.

He cursed as he said it. But it helped me to see his rawness as I felt the emotion steaming off of him. I imagined myself on the street at night, trying not to freeze; maybe stealing a bottle of liquor from somewhere to not feel so cold. Now I pictured myself in his shoes, in the middle of a coffee shop, among the very people who had the ability to help, yet none willing. I heard the Spirit whisper: Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.

I relented. "Ok," I said, "Let's go find you a hotel."

Jesus's Heart for The Least of These

I've passed over thousands of homeless people over the course of my lifetime, a good chunk of which asked me for money or help in some way. So, I don't pretend to be an expert here. But I know that I, as well as the circles in which I run, are woefully lacking in helping the type of man or woman from the story above. Jesus didn't help all of them. He couldn't. He only had one body and so do you. However, I can't help but think of the story in Mark 3 of the Man with the Withered Hand.

This man is presumably homeless and destitute (assumed in that culture as cursed by God- which I don't think the current culture changes that narrative very drastically, we direct it to responsibility: It is their fault because they didn't do enough or work hard enough). So, this man walks into the synagogue, a place where God's people meet. Who knows how he got there, but the question everyone is wondering: would Jesus heal this man on the Sabbath? The Jewish Religious leaders had manufactured so many human-made (add-ons to the original commands) rules in order to protect the Sabbath from being broken, that they had actually missed the heart of God for this man.

Jesus boils it down very clearly for them:

"And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?' But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart..." (Mark 3:4-5).

These men were silent in the face of being asked whether it was a good thing or not to kill on the Sabbath. There was a man right in front of them who needed help, but their fear kept them from desiring his healing.

What's Wrong with Our Heart?

I wonder if our fear of being manipulated, losing control, or being walked over keeps us from reflecting God's heart to a needy world. I can't track the number of hours I've spent reading books, studying the Bible, or being in a prayer/discipleship group; conversely, the number of hours I've spent helping the "least of these" is tiny. Can we help everyone? No. Must we help someone? Yes. Risking being manipulated in order to bring about good is praiseworthy (1 Peter 3:8-22). Being walked over is par for the course (Romans 8:36). Control is not a fruit of the Spirit, but kindness, patience, and gentleness are (Galatians 5:22). If we do not choose to offer ourselves to care for the weak and powerless out of fear of what it may cost us, we do not share in the suffering of Christ (Philippians 3:10), because that is precisely what he did.

As I heard Anthony's story (that's his name) and tried to help him, something in my heart grew. It was like I heard Jesus whisper, "This is what I have done for you."

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