“Loving the least of these” – a statement from scripture that Christians will use when speaking of reaching out to the brokenness in humanity. I get it because I’ve been brought up in church. I understand when they say “least of these”; it means what Jesus meant when you love those who are rejected by society. When receiving them you actually are receiving Him. The scripture isn’t bogus, but the “fad” we’ve made this statement into is.
There are many well-intention believers, like myself, who want to reach out to the marginalized and make a difference but have no flippin’ idea how to do that. When we step out, we find ourselves way over our heads in a mess we don’t understand. We lack skills to deal with the complex problems of society which then causes us to retreat back to our safe Sunday morning services where hearing about reaching “the least of these” sounds romantic and heroic. We are safe in our motivations to reach out to brokenness, but plead “In God’s name, don’t send me back into that mess!”
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not criticizing the beautiful motivation of people to wanting to love like Christ did. That is to be commended, and is seen as crucial evidence of our faith (See Matthew 25:31). It’s because of that I write this post. What I am saying is that we need to stop glorifying the idea of “loving the least of these” and get to the doing. Not to mention, do you really think the people we are reaching want to be considered “the least of these”? Talk about feeling like a project. We need to stop with the over use of feel-good cliches like this and think about what we’re communicating. A small shift in sensitivity of language can build bridges quickly.
Let me give you a personal example of a time I had some epic fail in this.
I remember being invited to a Boys and Girls Club after school program for vulnerable youth. It was my first experience doing a hip hop class with this extremity of vulnerable youth. To say I was ill-prepared for what was to come is an understatement. I started by introducing myself and having the teens introduce themselves as well. Their stand-offish body language made me a little nervous, but I pressed forward and started the warm up. As the music played, I started doing moves while they watched me for a few moments. After only one minute, 80% of them walked away to the side of the room chatting with one another. When the 20% that were left noticed they were the minority, most of them just stopped. I had no idea what to do. I stopped the music and approached the group on the side of the room asking them what was up. “F… you. What the f…. do you know about us anyways, huh?” Ok. What do you say to that, right? Trying to gain courage to speak again I encouraged them to come back to give it a try. All I got was a numerous amount of blatant “NO’s” with backs then turning away from me. My old school upbringing wanted to bring out the authoritarian to make them come back and do what they were supposed to do, but I didn’t. I just walked up to the leader and said sheepishly, “Ummm… what now?”
That particular experience ended horribly. I left feeling completely incapable of reaching youth at risk. I was frustrated with myself and with my lack of know-how. I started thinking about our prayers in church to reach those such as these. “How can we possibly imagine those youth coming into our churches and fitting in? How would we even know what to do with them?” I started imagining parents in the church being concerned that these “least of these” corrupting their young people. But then my imagination turned to how many of these youth were out there who needed someone to say “You are valuable” and just take the profanity in the face.
From there I started to wonder about my willingness to count the cost of what it would take to reach out to those Jesus would give the honourable name “least of these”. This statement is actually giving these a place of honor, as Jesus considers the last to be first. Do we see them that way? Or a lower class to be served and helped? What if they spit in our face, swear at us, steal our stuff, betray us? What if they are ungrateful, rude and self seeking? What happens when they scare the living snot out of us with the insurrmountable amount of “issues” they bring? Will we then “love the least of these?” Do we deem them in the same light as Christ does?
In loving those who Jesus considers to be first in His kingdom means we’re willing to stand there, even if we’re kicked and sworn at and still love. We’re wiling to stick around and invest in the mess, not just take a glance or schedule a quick visit to appease our spiritual conscience. We don’t try to “fix” them with the right scriptures. We don’t open our mouths with Christian cliches or judgments when they spout off what we believe is unrighteousness. t
Perhaps loving means we can look past the hard exterior and see the inner-child crying out to belong.
After all, in the end, belonging is the cry in every human’s heart. The very essence of God’s heartbeat is to bring them back to a place of belonging. To engage ourselves in His dream of seeing this belonging become a reality for many may just be the craziest, scariest (at times), but most rewarding purpose we can ever engage ourselves in.
If you’re on the journey of having no flippin’ clue how to do this, stay on the journey friend. Be brave and venture into unmarked territory. There’s a few things we can do to be sure we are loving well:
1. Listen to their stories. Don’t jump in with your remedies. Seek to understand them.
2. See the beauty in each person. When we view others as “them” or as “filthy”, we undermine the kingdom of God and forfeit any chance in being able to engage in meaningful relationship with them. There is much to gain from learning to see things through the lense by which they view their world.
3. Read, learn and do all you can to study in the areas you are seeking to provide solutions to. Gain the skills it is going to take to be effective. If you want to reach those who are recovering from drug addiction, study what the experts are saying. Read about it, interview people who are doing it. When we walk into the brokenness of the world with prideful ignorance, assuming we know what they need, we won’t last very long.
4. Keep the love of God at the centre of all you do. See others the way He sees them. Let love compel you to selflessly serve. Sacrifice comes easier when God is the centre of our vision. “When did love become unmoving? When did love become unconsuming?” (Sidewalk Prophets)
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)