A man is walking down a busy road, weary. His shoulders are slumped his head is down and everything about him is telling you he is feeling pretty low. You saw a car a mile back and figure that was probably his; yet you do not stop you drive by. Maybe we don’t stop because we are in a hurry – maybe we make excuses like we are alone and we don’t know what kind of man he really is – whatever our excuse is, we stick to it and continue on.
I know, I have been there and done that. God cannot expect me, a young woman, to stop and pick up a strange man just to fulfill this scripture – this is not what God was talking about at all. As a pastor, as a mother, as a woman of God, I do my duty helping out those around me when I can and often I help even when I cannot. But there has to be a point at which God has to accept that maybe in Jesus’ time this was acceptable but in today’s time I would just be asking for it and I would get taken advantage of if I helped everyone that came my way. But when I do turn people down or drive by I do so in a loving way – don’t you? I pray that someone might help them or I smile as if to say ‘I understand’
But do I truly understand where God is and how God is using those I meet to speak to me? Am I really letting this scripture speak in today’s terms? Or am I just letting God’s message be tangled with the thoughts of society?
In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of the final judgment of God and the all too famous line “‘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.’” But back in the time of the Gospel, hospitality was common; people didn’t lock their doors nor did people need to clean to invite guests in. The invitation for a dinner guest was always open. Unfortunately, times have changed. We live in a world where caution is second nature and invitations are given selectivity…where homeless men with signs for food are cause for suspect instead of compassion…battered women are often blamed for staying instead of given empathy…young men in hoodies are gunned down instead of offered a chance of life…at the worst is always expected. Poverty has become a sign of God’s disfavor and natural disasters have been used to show how evil some cities are. And as Christians we have forgotten who judges and we need to be reminded that Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are the members of my family, you did it to me. Or perhaps just what you thought of one of the least of these, you thought of God.
But what then does God want us to do? Let’s go back to the man we left walking on the road – let us say we picked him up and drove him to a phone or to a friends. What does that do to truly help his situation – he still has to get his car fixed and probably he didn’t have the money necessary to do that in the first place and now his situation has gotten exponentially worse – far beyond maybe we can fathom in this little scenario – so I ask again, were we any help bringing him to his friends or to a phone – or did we just make ourselves feel better? By bringing him some where and getting him off the road – we did our part to fulfill God’s will – didn’t we?
I argue that no, we didn’t do enough and maybe the man on the road walking was not God wanting for us to drive a man some where but was God reminding us that we need to take action against our society. Against a society that has sent jobs over seas and left men and women to work for less then living wage. Against a society that has created a system of government that fails the people who need the government’s protection the most. Maybe that man is a reminder for us that injustice still exits and it is our jobs as Christians – As the Body of Christ in to push for change! To not just bear witness to the man walking but to take action on behalf of the man walking! “‘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.’”
Is it enough to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, find shelter for the homeless and take care of the sick? Or are we just taking care of symptoms when we look at each case individually? Shouldn’t we be reminded that the injustice and the pain runs much deeper, that it isn’t just one man walking but millions of men and women who have been left to walk on the banks of society juggling to stay within? Are we really doing our duty as Christians when we put a band-aid on the problem – when a band-aid just isn’t big enough! If we just help the man to the phone and yet do nothing to change the world he and we live in – then we have failed. If we could only stop the injustices others might not have to suffer.
But this is where people again start inserting excuses – I can’t make a difference because “I am just one person” Yet as Christians we are not just one person we are a part of the Body of Christ. Being a Christian demands that we take the road less traveled and often to feel alone – but we are never alone for our God walks with us. As Christians we must assume our responsibility to open our own eyes to the needs of those around us. And call ourselves and our churches on their injustices! How much of an endowment fund does our church really need when the church down the street cannot afford its RG&E bill? When we hear about a church that does so much for the community that when the roof caved in, it did not have enough to fix it – should not all the churches in the area pull together to help a fellow Christian? Or are our differences really that great?
Yes, today times are different and hospitality has changed – for society has changed! We are no longer responsible for the person or persons who live in our towns or our villages or those just passing through. Through media – television and radio – we are no longer just witnesses to the one man walking down the road; but the witnesses to the injustices of the world. Although we might not be there in person that does not mean that our witness is any less – for we cannot ignore our second hand witnesses. We are now given responsibility for a society - for a world and for all those who have no voice yet some how their story touches our souls. And as women and men in God we must honor this great responsibility. ‘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’
Am I preaching here that we shouldn’t even bother to help those we see? Am I preaching that we only need to fight the big fight? By all means no! But I am saying is that we cannot let the big fight go unseen – that we cannot wait to get into the ring because we only have one glove on! That as we put the band-aid on the individual wounds we must remember that the societal wounds need stitches. That in order to fulfill God’s will we must not forget that for each person we help many more came before and many more will come after.
We hear and see so much every day that could reflect on this passage in Matthew – so much that it can be seen as overwhelming and maybe that is why many Christians do nothing. For it seems far easier to focus on the band-aids then to fight for societal changes. It seems far easier to give the man a car ride then to fight against what put that man in the situation. It seems far easier to collect food for the local food pantry then to lobby outside the Capital when cut-backs to public welfare are being made. It is far easier to curse the system then to take action to change the system. And it seems far easier to sit in our comfy homes with heat then to take a night to live on the street in solidarity with the homeless. It also seems far easier to judge those less fortunate then to ask them why they have so little. Anything is easier then to hear the story and become a witness – a bearer of the burdens. ‘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’
When you see a man on the side of the road, don’t just drive by but pledge to take on the injustice in the world and do right by not only that man but the men and women that that man represents. God does not want us to take the easy way out; God wants us to forge through the thicket and emerge triumphant. We do not know when the day of the Lord will come or when final judgment may be given but I do know that like most of you, I am living my life full of God’s grace and inspiring to be one of the flock.
But have we been true to God’s message here? Have we used Matthew’s words here to inspire or have we ourselves uses this criteria to judge – judge the man walking along side the road – judge ourselves. Have we used these words “‘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.’” To prove that we ourselves must be one of the sheep and not a goat. This passage speaks clearly that it is Jesus who judges us and that it is Jesus who will separate the sheep from the goats – and surprisingly the goats are shocked. The goats do not seem to think they are to blame or that they have done anything wrong. The goats are friends and perhaps church mates to the sheep. The goats are in all intensive purposes Christians.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to judge. God doesn’t ask us to decide who is righteous for ALL are worthy. Living into righteousness is living without injustice and doing something, anything, to stop the injustices not perpetuate them.
It is in the next week or so, we will see a man walking with his head down and shoulders heavy for he is carrying the burden of a cross. He is walking to Golgotha, you witnessed the accusations against him and as he passes you by what do you do? Do you lose eye contact? Or do you take him into your heart? Do you profess your faith? And help carry that cross, spreading the Good News to all those around you? And fighting for change so that no one else needs bear the same cross he did? Or do you do nothing?