“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“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 25:34-40
I write this with tears in my eyes as I contemplate the phrase “loving the least of these.”
We are in an exciting new season of life. A season of love and marriage. A season of newness. A season of promises fulfilled. A season of trials and growth. A season of watching God do what only He can do.
But the excitement of this new season has also ushered in a season of learning to love one who can sometimes be unlovable. A season of struggling to accept opposition and defiance. A season of attempting to help one who doesn’t want help.
As I sat in church this week after a difficult weekend, I kept hearing God say, “Love the least of these.” After what I’ve just experienced in the last few hours, I don’t like that command. I want to give up, quit trying. I want to simply put the unlovable away.
And yet I must ask myself how many times have I been the unlovable? How many times have I been the least of these? How many times have I been undeserving of my Father’s love?
But He never stopped loving me.
And I pray God will give me the strength to love the least of these in my own life, those who need mt love more than anyone else.
As I contemplate the least of these, I wonder just exactly who God is referring to. Maybe it’s different for each of us. Maybe for you, it’s a difficult person at work. Maybe for others, it’s the addict in your family. Maybe it’s the wayward child who constantly hurts you. Maybe it’s the difficult ex-spouse who continually heaps pain upon you.
For me, I think of three categories of people that have impacted my life in drastic ways. Three categories that are often neglected, shunned even at church. Three categories you may know.
The divorced. As a divorced Christian, I know how isolating it can be to wear the scarlet letter D around my neck for all the world to see. The divorced lose so much: half our friends, half our finances, half of the time with our children. We lose reputations and careers and the sheer will to keep living. We experience a rejection and betrayal of the deepest, most intimate type. We lose our past and our future.
And many times we lose our church. The church turns against us, alienating us even further because of our public “sin.” We are told we didn’t pray hard enough, love well enough, persevere long enough. We are publicly humiliated for our sins, even when our “sins” were loving someone who chose to walk away.
Yet God’s words are clear: love the least of these. Reach out and extend a hand of love and grace. Be a listening ear for the divorced as they process one of the most painful hurts this life can hand them. Lavish them with gifts of caring and concern: home-cooked meals and financial assistance and baby-sitting. Offer them words of encouragement to help soothe their battered souls.
Simply love them, show them the grace of God so freely bestowed upon all of us, so undeserved by all of us.
People struggling with mental illness. I have a dear, dear friend whose life has been filled with the struggle of loving a child with a mental illness. So many times her heart has shattered as her son has struggled with the demons that have haunted him since childhood. She’s wondered if he would survive the night, the latest suicide attempt.
I’ve sat with her as tears streamed down her face, watching as her son was ostracized—by family, by friends, by the church. I’ve listened as she poured out her heart, the overwhelming pain of wondering when, how God will answer her prayers. And I’ve watched as she continually rises above the ashes, asking God to use her pain to help others who are walking the same path.
How do we love the least of these? We include them instead of ostracizing them. We choose to embrace rather than keep at arms’ length. We surround them, their families, with love and prayer. We seek to understand the demons, the pain that drive them to the edge. We speak words of compassion rather than words of disgust and disappointment. We stand close, embracing them, loving them to the end.
Special needs children and their families. This one has become near and dear to my heart, even though it seems to be the most challenging one for me right now. Do you know the struggle of raising a special needs child? Do you know the physical and emotional weight of caring for a disabled child? Do you know what it is to never be able to get away from the demands? Do you know the impact on other children in the home?
I am just now learning the magnitude of living with a special needs child all the time. It is draining. From bathing and dressing and taking her to the bathroom and feeding her and meeting every need she has, every moment of every day. And then add the struggle of her adjustment to a new situation, a new home, a new school. I know she is overwhelmed.
How do we love the least of these? Create a special needs program at your church so the family can attend service without caring for the child. Have a special evening of activities to celebrate the special needs children while the families take a much needed evening off. Start a support group (complete with child care) to allow the families to connect with other families in the same situation. There are so many ways to be the hands and feet of Christ to the families of special needs children.
I know there are many other categories of the least of these. Maybe the ones I’ve mentioned don’t resonate with you because it’s not your heart, your passion, your experience. That’s fine. Find the category that impacts you, an area where you are passionate. Maybe it’s foster kids or addicts or veterans. Maybe it’s kids who have lost parents or siblings or parents who have lost children. Maybe it’s inmates and their families. Maybe it’s people of another race that you feel called to minister to. It doesn’t matter. Just love them.
Reach out and share the love of Christ with some of the least of these.