Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. – Jesus
A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church.
The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.
Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.
The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t.
“One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. “She thought it was an actual homeless person.”
That’s right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.
“Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,” Boraks added.
It’s hard for us to recognize Jesus when Jesus shows up dressed as the poor or migrant workers from Honduras trying to seek asylum in this country.
Scripture insists that experiencing God’s transforming grace in your life will lead to expressing God’s compassion in radical ways with everything that you have and everything that you are.
Why is that so?
Because of the essence of the Christian story. You see the very center of the Christian story, is the story of God becoming poor for us. Jesus himself would become hungry, thirsty, naked, and poor on a Roman cross for you, me, and the whole world.
The gospel tells us that you and I, in all the ways that matter— spiritually and morally—are desperately impoverished and yet at infinite cost to himself, God gives us grace. God extends us compassion when we could not hope to deserve it.
When that good news gets into the depth of who you are; when you are appropriately scandalized by the gospel of God’s grace, you will become the kind of person that naturally lives to extend compassion to everyone that you are around.
Jesus says do you want to grow as my follower? Here is how you do it: get close to someone in need. When you are around the least of these, whenever you get near somebody who needs friendship, welcome, compassion, and help— whenever you make the choice to be generous—Jesus says you are on Holy Ground.
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy tells a fascinating story called Where Love, God Is. It is the story of a cobbler named Martin. Martin is someone who experienced deep tragedy. That tragedy grows him hard and cynical. He begins to be quite depressed. He drinks vodka like its water. But one day he happens upon a Bible and begins to read the Gospels. His life is turned upside down. Peace and joy flood his life.
One evening after Martin had finished his days’ work, he sits by the fire in the living room with his glasses drooping on his nose reading a place in the gospels when he falls asleep. And he has a vision in which Jesus comes to him in a dream and he says, “Martin, tomorrow look for me in the street for I will come and visit you there.”
The next morning Martin wakes up excited that today he is going to meet Jesus Christ himself. He stationed himself by the window in his house early in the morning. Down the street comes an old man from his town named Stepanich who has shoes that are worn full of holes. He can’t pay to have his shoes repaired. And so, Martin simply invites him in from the cold. He repairs his shoes for him. He spends some time with an old man who’s who lives much of his life quite lonely. Then he sends him on his way.
Later in the morning, he spots a woman who has a baby and she’s poorly dressed for the winter wind. So he invites her into his home. He gives her some of the cabbage soup that he had been making for his lunch. He gives her his cloak to wrap the baby in and then eventually he sends her on her way on her way.
And then in the afternoon as he is again sitting by his window, he spots an old woman who’s selling apple’s out of a cart when a teenager sneaks up on her and steals an apple and tries to run off. But the old woman being spry, grabs a tuft of the boy’s hair and she’s screaming at him and threatening to call the police. So, Martin runs out of his home. He separates the woman from the boy. He calms the woman down. He pays her for her apple. He gives that apple to the boy. He makes the boy apologize to the old woman and he gets them to befriend one another.
He goes back into his home and makes himself dinner. Then as he’s sitting by the fire, he remembers his dream and wonders where Jesus was and why Jesus did not come to visit him as he promised.
After supper he decides to read the Bible again. Here is how Tolstoy tells the story:
He intended to open the book at the very place where he had yesterday put a piece of leather as a mark, but it happened to open at another place; and the moment Martin opened the Testament, he recollected his last night’s dream. And as soon as he remembered it, it seemed as though he heard someone stepping about behind him. Martin looked around, and saw—there, in the dark corner, it seemed as though people were standing: he was at a loss to know who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear, “Martin—ah, Martin! Did you not recognize me?”
“Who?” uttered Martin.
“Me,” replied the voice. “It is I,” and Stepanich stepped forth from the dark corner; he smiled, and like a little cloud faded away, and soon vanished.
“And this is I,” said the voice. From the dark corner stepped forth the woman with her child: the woman smiled, the child laughed, and they also vanished.
“And this is I,” continued the voice; both the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped forward; both smiled and vanished.
Martin’s soul rejoiced: he crossed himself, put on his eyeglasses, and began to read the Gospel where it happened to open. On the upper part of the page he read:
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
And on the lower part of the page he read this:
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25).
And Martin understood that his dream did not deceive him; that the Savior really called upon him that day, and that he really received Him.
Friends, this is the good news. Jesus has become the least of these for us. May we welcome him deeply into our lives. You will meet him in your life this week dressed as the least of these.