The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 19 “The Least of These”

I walk in to church and venerate the icons at the entry of the sanctuary. This is still not comfortable to me. I still feel like I’m ‘faking’ it.

Is this how converts feel in Evangelical churches? Like they still don’t quite fit? Square boxes in holy, round holes?

But I’m growing in my comfort. I try to do this thoughtfully, really thinking about those in the icons displayed, grateful that they lived and died for this faith. And I am miles from where I first stood in relationship to this ancient faith, to when I stood with aching feet and legs wondering when the service would end. 

I’m in a discombobulated state. My contact lens, invisible proof of my vanity, is lost in my eye and has not surfaced. (Only those with contact lenses will understand this last sentence and just how discombobulated you feel when your contact lenses go missing.)

It’s the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Just writing those two words puts me in this place of discomfort. No one wants to talk about judgment — least of all me.

The scripture is based on a parable in Matthew 25. Jesus is talking about sheep and goats and the righteous and the unrighteous. And his words to the righteous invite them to come into his presence, to the inheritance that has been created for them since the beginning of time. He says something interesting to them:

“…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.”

And the righteous – they question him — wait a minute? When did this happen? When did we feed you, clothe you, visit you, comfort you?

He replies:  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  

But the parable doesn’t end there – because there’s another group of people who are told they didn’t help. They are surprised – what do you mean we didn’t help you? When did this happen? And the answer mirrors the first  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Just the addition of a couple words changes everything. And the outcome for these, the ‘did nots’ is dire. They are sent away, told to depart. They are cursed and the punishment is harsh.

My mind begins to wander after the scripture reading. So – when I buy tea for Valerie on the street with cream and 5 sugars, I’m not really doing it for Valerie. I’m doing it for Jesus. And when Donald wants coffee — blueberry with 10 sugars, it’s coffee for Jesus. And when we befriend immigrants, strangers in a city, we are befriending for Jesus. And when I care for someone who is sick, it’s not about just being a nurse, I’m doing it for Jesus. Even when I have wrong motives? Even when I give grudgingly? Who are the ‘least of these’ in my life?

I don’t know but it seems that the ‘least of these’ matter to God. A Lot. This is judgment we’re talking about and apparently it isn’t enough to just love God. We’re also called to love those who bear his image, even when they are unlovely. Loving God means loving those who are made in the image of God. No caveats. No excuses. No ‘buts.’

This is not new information to me but my mind still has trouble understanding. When you have a middle-aged faith, new information sometimes needs to be dressed in different clothing and seen with new eyes.

All of us bear the image and stamp of our Creator God. “The least of these” are image-bearers and what I do for them I do for God.

Will it take a lifetime for me to really get it? That whatever I do for the ‘least of these’ I do for God? Monday morning tea for Valerie may never look the same. 

The least of these edited

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7 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 19 “The Least of These”

  1. Such a powerful image – of us bearing God’s stamp, his image. I find myself walking through the shopping mall, rushing, head down, not concentrating on others, then I’m reminded to carry the Holy Spirit carefully and I look up, really look at people walking by, careful not to bump into them, careful to smile and be pleasant, to bear God well towards them.

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  2. Marilyn,
    We have never met but I am an old friend of your husband, Cliff. We went to junior high school together a million years ago. A few days ago I got and email from Cliff sharing his guest post on your blog about his trip to Persia. I did not have time to read the post then but copied the link so I could come back when I had more time. When I clicked the link I ended up on your blog and I began to read. I was moved by your penetrating and effective retelling of this old and familiar parable. It is a favorite of mine. I am a lawyer who represents mentally ill and disabled people who are charged with murder. Working with these people is at times very difficult. In many cases I feel like they are actually working against me and their own best interest throughout the process. This parable has often come to mind in my work and it will even more so in the future but I will never consider the parable of the least among us again without remembering that all men bare the very image of God.

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    1. Lloyd – I’m so honored that you came by and read this. Thank you. Your work sounds incredibly hard from all sides. I recently heard a Christian lawyer talk about being a public defender and the two stories he told were heart-breakingly awful. And I think about Jesus and his ability to see beyond the external and sometimes want to shout “yeah but you were God – your vision is a little better than mine.” I was convicted in a new way with this parable as well. Thanks again – it means a lot that you read and commented.

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  3. That parable is always so convicting for me. I don’t run into homeless people where we are living. They’re in the city just down the road. But I do encounter inefficient checkout clerks, or rude people, and usually when I’m tired from shopping and just want to get out and get home. I’m not usually rude, but boy, if that person could read my mind! I realize that I’m thinking about myself, not the one serving me. What is she going through in her life? What are his stresses? I need to forget about myself and just treat each one as an image bearer of my God. They may not even realize it, but I do, and the responsibility is on me to see that image in this person in front of me. Thanks Marilyn. Oh, and when you lose a contact lense in your eye?? (really?) how do you get it out? And how do you know it’s there, and not down the sink drain? Oh, probably you can feel it? I hope you found it!

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    1. Ah – the contact lens…well I learned a little trick that will help me. It rarely happens I have to say but I did find it :) That’s the thing – the least of these can have broad meaning. Anything from the homeless to the person that no one wants to communicate with at church or at gatherings. I’m also continually convicted on the ‘image-bearer’ reminder. CS Lewis “you have never met a mere mortal” comes to mind. Thanks Mom!

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