Monday, April 6, 2020

The Least of These

As Christians, it's easy to feel torn right now. On the one hand, we are a people who are guided by truth, and we know that the truth is the surest and shortest path through this. Through anything, really. On the other hand, we are a people governed by grace, and we know that our neighbors need this right now, too. We cannot allow ourselves to become angry with those whose fragile human flesh leads them to seek, even to demand, something that we ourselves do not require, but nor can we allow ourselves to be dragged along by their insecurities. It's tough. 

What I find myself coming back to again and again is Jesus's principle of "the least of these." Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.

It's a little bit of a trick question because the truth is that we're all the least of these. Even in those moments where we seem to be more, there is always something that makes us least all over again. There is a way to shift perspective that allows us to see the need in someone else, even if they passionately declare that they have no need. Even if their need isn't as glaringly obvious as someone else's. And that means that at any moment, in any conversation, it's important that we able to speak about the least of these that are being slighted by the dominant voices and that we speak directly to the leastness of those voices themselves.

Take, for example, a conversation that's happening all over the country right now. What is essential?

There are persons willing to shut down everything, to close all the stores, to rope off sections of superstores, to judge and publicly shame others who are buying what they don't deem is essential. No one needs that right now, they say. And that ranges anywhere from a new pillow to a package of flowers to plant to cigarettes or beer. Because it is not a necessity for them, they believe it to not be a necessity for anyone and can't believe communities are still providing access to these things.

But that package of flowers might be a lifeline of color for a person with severe depression who needs to see something besides the four walls in her home. She needs that chance to nurture life because tending to it with her hands gives her the chance to tend to it in her own soul. We are coming off the dark winter season, a time when so many with depression do their best just to white knuckle and hold on until spring and now, our spring is being taken from us. A six pack of pansies may not seem like a lot to you, but for someone else, it is life. Loving the least of these means speaking up for those who can't tell you the difference a few flowers make...and fear you wouldn't hear them even if they tried.

Cigarettes and beer are substances that create a physical dependence in the body, and that dependence doesn't easily go away. Addiction is one of the hardest battles to fight. Taking away something your body is dependent on causes severe distress - physical and emotional. It's unfair and unrealistic to believe that this dependence simply disappears because these substances aren't "essential" for someone who doesn't struggle with them. We cannot condemn our brothers and sisters to severe distress because we don't think these substances were good for them anyway. We put all kinds of things on our own grocery lists that have no nutritional value, but our bodies crave them (coffee, chips, candies, chocolate), and then we act all high and mighty and declare these "lesser" things non-essential. Sorry. It doesn't work that way. And to add to that, we know that addiction is a monster best fought in community; demanding our brothers and sisters fight them in isolation is just a burden too great to bear. Loving the least of these means speaking up for those caught in a vicious cycle, carrying heavy chains that others do not understand unless they've held them.

At the same time, we cannot forget those doing the shaming. We cannot simply be harsh with those who are harsh with others, for they, too, are driven by something they may not be able to name. Often, it's insecurity. Often, it's fear. It's this feeling that they need to have something predictable in their world, something they can control. It seems easy enough - if the official guidance of our leaders is to limit ourselves to the essentials, then these persons latch onto that as the thing that's going to anchor them in this storm. They believe that it's this limiting that is our lifeboat. To them, it's the thing that's going to keep them alive. It's why they become so antagonistic about it. It is their hope. And they look around and see what they don't understand in others, and they can't believe that someone else is putting their assurance in jeopardy. That's really what it's about. They are afraid and insecure and that is only heightened by those who seem to be ignoring the advice that's supposed to keep them safe and assured. That means these, too, are the least of these, and loving them means speaking about this fear and insecurity in the same gracious ways.

Everyone around you is the least of these. That's the little secret that Jesus never told you. Everyone around you is wrestling with something, is struggling with something, is being driven by something that, if we'd just take the time to understand, we'd spend a lot less of our time judging and more of our time loving. We'd be living with a lot more grace in all directions.

We might even find some for ourselves. 

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