'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
A few days ago, I met a new couple in the hallway at church. They seemed nice enough, and after a quick introduction, I hurried to the nursery to drop Micah off and then went about my business, teaching class in the youth building.
Only later did I learn that the couple is destitute, which, according to the definition of the word at dictionary.com, means that they are lacking basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. My jaw dropped when I heard the news.
I live in a nice, small, Southern town. I know that there are poor people in our area, but honestly, I never see them. I didn't know that our little town had projects until I stumbled across them one day when I took a wrong turn. When I read passages in the Bible like the one above, I think, yes, we should feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, but really, Lord, where are they? They're not here.
Turns out that they are.
A lot of people have rallied around the couple, and they now have a roof over their heads, food in their pantry, and clothes on their back. They don't, however, have a car. Did I mention that the woman is pregnant? And the hospital in Iuka will flat out turn you away if you walk in with a pregnancy complication. The closest place to receive care is Corinth, 20 miles away.
Can you imagine?
They walked the mile and a half to church from the less-than-reputable motel they were staying in.
I don't think I've ever wanted to go to church so badly that I set out walking.
Even Dennis, who literally grew up around the corner from church, has never walked there.
We are so privileged, and so often, we don't even realize it. Three years ago at this time, I had just returned from a monumental trip to Africa. It was there that I first realized how absolutely undeserving I am of the life that God has chosen to bless me with. Here I am, three years later, learning the same lesson all over again.
Yesterday afternoon, I cleaned out my pantry and linen closet, bagging up items that I had gotten for free thanks to my couponing efforts. It felt good to be able to give so freely out of the abundance that God had given me, but I wonder if there is something more we can do.
I know that there are people like them all over the place. The reminder that they exist, even in a place like Iuka, has shamed me for the way I have failed to do the things that God has asked me to do. I don't feed the poor or clothe the naked. I certainly don't visit anyone in prison, nor do I intend to anytime soon.
I think there's something wrong with that.
I know that I am doing a ridiculously poor job of loving the least of these. And that's a sobering thought.
As I contemplated ways that we can actually help the poor in our midst, I was reminded of God's commands to the Israelites. If they were so fortunate as to own a field, they weren't to harvest it all the way up to the edges. They were supposed to leave a margin of unharvested food around the outside. That way, those who were without could come and collect food to eat (see Leviticus 19:9-10). That, by the way, is what Ruth was doing in Boaz's field. Collecting the grain that had been left behind.
Now, Dennis and I don't have a field with grain to harvest. But we do reap a paycheck harvest every month, and I think we can do a better job of saving some room at the edges to help the poor.
I want to be able to give freely out of the abundance that God has given us. This whole experience has reminded me that it's time to be more disciplined and intentional about the way we handle our money and resources. As Christians, we are called to love the least of these. It's well past time for us to get started.
Until next time, grace and peace.