Aug 19 2021
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ -Matthew 25: 34-40 (NRSV)
I imagine that for most of us, this wisdom shared by Jesus is a touchstone for our discipleship and service. Over and over in scripture (Old and New Testament) the people (including you and I) are told that compassion and care for others is pleasing to God, and is the Godly way we are to live. Throughout the centuries, indeed, throughout our lives and ministries, this compassion and care may take many forms. When Jesus shares this parable in its fullness, it is to teach that when we care for others, filling their needs (which may also fill their spirit) is caring for our Lord, who gave his life to serve and save each one of us—each and every human being. As you know, the parable continues with the condemnation for those who did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, because in NOT doing these things, they did them NOT to Christ himself.
If we look at this from a “transactional” stance, “doing good” to Jesus (even by doing good to others), is what we “owe” Jesus for all that Jesus did and does for us. Transaction is a natural human perspective and means of relationship. But, I believe this is one of the “sicknesses” that Jesus offers us healing from. This need to always get something in return for something we give is about power (even if what we expect in return is for someone to come to church because we gave them some food—physical or spiritual). Our natural reaction can be, “well, they aren’t one of us; they don’t come to church; they don’t participate, they don’t give—so why do we want to give anything to them?” See the transaction there? Or, “we didn’t get a thank you note, so they must not appreciate all WE have done for them”. See the power relationship there?
But transaction and power and control is not the Jesus way. Grace is the Jesus way. Love (and care and compassion) with no strings attached is what we are freely given, and is what we are called to give freely away. AGAPE is the Greek word for love that describes this type of love. It goes a different path beyond transactional relationship, and even supersedes romantic or “brotherly/sisterly” love. It is love that is willing to go all the way for the sake of the other—just as Jesus did (and does) for us. This is the powerful love of the cross. This love—the LOVE of Christ-- gives power that truly eclipses any power, any position, any purpose on earth; and replaces it with the purity of care and compassion; with the recognition of our common humanity and that we all are beloved of God.
I know that in your ministry, you are the hands, feet and heart of Christ. I see the many ways you are feeding, visiting, caring and comforting people in your community and in your church family. Whether you know it or not, you are an influencer. Your discipleship, after the example of Christ, is evident in the many, many ways your church families are connected and caring in their communities, sharing the love of Christ in tangible and authentic ways. The people of our districts share in compassionate care and life-giving relationship, which transforms lives and brings God’s love to bear on all of these days we are living in, and the way we choose to live through them.
I am, like I imagine you are, very concerned by the resurgence of COVID/Delta. I get worried that we might become too transactional in caring for our community. For me, I remember that Jesus was willing to go to the cross (through the brutality and “inconvenience” of Pilate and Herod) and sacrifice his comfort and life for my sake, your sake and the sake of all. I wonder that if we model care for neighbor by wearing a mask (even if vaccinated, like I am), we might communicate our commitment to care for others, even at that the sacrifice of our comfort (I don’t like wearing a mask either!) or even when a person might feel it is their “right” not to wear a mask. I don’t think either of those things are more important than a person’s life or health, do you? Especially if that life is your child or grandchild; or the child or grandchild of another; or a person who has other health issues, perhaps suffering from cancer or recovering from transplant. Don’t we, as Christ followers, have a calling to model what it means to love AGAPE-style, as God loves us? This expression of love involves sacrifice, a laying down of what may be occupying us, so we can be free to lift up another.
Well, this is just something to ponder. I encourage you to join me in prayer this week. I will be praying for wisdom in how to lead in these days, in ways that preserve and protect, encourage and influence others in the Way of Jesus, and in ways that “do no harm” and “do good”. I appreciate your commitment to serving Jesus, and caring for all the people Jesus has put in your care.