The passage from Sunday was Jesus separating humanity, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, into two groups: those who are blessed and those who are accursed.
The blessed are blessed because they, during their lives, fed Jesus when he was hungry, gave him something to drink when he was thirsty, visited him when he was a stranger, took care of him when he was sick, and visited him when he was in prison.
The accursed are those who did not do any of those things for him.
The first point I was making is how this passage changes the way we think of outreach, or serving the poor: It’s not that we transform the lives of the poor by being Christ-like to them, it’s that Christ transforms our lives by being poor-like to us.
I spoke personally about this dynamic, and that is what many people commented on.
I have found that each and every time I have done something hands on for the poor, I am, in fact – for a while anyway – transformed.
Nothing necessarily earth shaking…
…but I am filled with what has been called “an attitude of gratitude.”
Hungry: Interfaith Relief is almost always asking for more canned goods to distribute to those who run short of grocery money each month. Our own Grace to Go program has, the past several weeks, been running out of meals in the first 20 to 30 minutes.
To the degree that I remember that there are so many, right here in Loudoun County!, that need help getting through the month or they’ll go days without food, my attitude changes…
…so instead of thinking “I have to go grocery shopping,” I think I GET to go grocery shopping!”
Thirsty: I’ve been to rural Honduras, near the Guatemalan border, four times the last four years on a clean water mission trip. The little girls there in the villages have to hike a kilometer or more up to a hole where there is stagnant water, fill up their jugs, carry them back down, boil that water over a wood fire before they can use it.
I never turn on my kitchen faucet without thinking “wow, here it is!—clean, drinkable water!”
Closer to home: I was in Appalachian North Carolina where we ran water to a man’s trailer—he had electricity in his trailer but no running water, and he’d bought, a year or so prior, a hot water heater but had never filled it up. We ran the water to his house. He filled it up.
When we were leaving he said to us, “my wife will have a hot shower for the first time here in 11 years.”
Whenever I remember that, I don’t say “I have to take a shower,” I think “I GET to take a shower!”
An attitude of gratitude.
Strangers, the lonely: when I think of how much more I get back from every visit I make or time I am able to just listen to someone, or welcome someone who is on the edge of the community, I go from thinking “I have to return this phone call” to “I GET to return this phone call…”
The naked: The coat drive we did last Palm Sunday was a huge success, and we are now in the process of handing out all those coats. Families who are getting them are so appreciative. There are dads right here in Loudoun County whose “wish list” for his kids is “a winter coat.”
When I think of those dads, I go from thinking “We have to do laundry, I have to pick up the dry cleaning” to “we GET to do laundry! We get to go to the dry cleaners!”
An attitude of gratitude.
Sick: in Honduras, at the base of a mountain, we ran across a health clinic that served the villagers in that area. We asked the nurses at the clinic what their number one need was – what was the number one thing on their “wish list” of things they lacked.
I was expecting them to tell us they needed some expensive electronic equipment, some durable goods.
Their answer? “Ibuprofen.”
They wanted Advil, and Tylenol, to keep fever down to keep the flu bug from dehydrating and killing people.
To the degree I remember that, I go from “I have to have surgery” or “I have to take all these medicines” to “I GET to have surgery! And I GET to take all these medicines!”
In prison: I picked up a man from Loudoun County Adult Detention Center who had been transferred there for release, after serving 18 months in jail for some drug related charges. I picked him up, drove him over here to church, because he wanted to pray at the altar and give thanks for his release.
We parked in the parking lot. I started walking up to the church. I realized he was behind me, standing on the sidewalk…he’d stopped and was just standing there, staring up at the sky. I walked back to him and asked him what was going on.
He said, “this is the first time I’ve felt the sun like this…this is the first time I have been able to stare at the sky in 18 months.”
He was Jesus to me in that moment, giving me new life, transforming me...filling me with gratitude for SO much that I take for granted.
I don’t share these experiences as a way to “inject” that attitude of gratitude into your hearts, but as a way of encouraging you to have experiences like this (or more experiences like this) of your own.
If you want to find God, he’s told us where we can find him.
Because it’s not that we transform the lives of the poor by being Christ-like to them. It’s that Christ transforms our lives by being poor-like – by being the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, sick, incarcerated –to us.
In other words, giving us an “attitude of gratitude” is part of the reason Jesus is poor, for us.