Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Welcome the immigrant, part 1

We were driving through Des Moines, IA recently when I read the following on a billboard, “I was a stranger immigrant, and you invited me in. –Matthew 25:35”  I caught that it was a church that paid to put that billboard up, but I can’t remember which church it was, nor does that matter to me.  What they have done is taken an often forgotten bit of Scripture and flagged our attention to it with a perfect contemporary example of what this passage is getting at.  I like it.

Look at the passage with me (Matthew 25:35-40):

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; 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, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Actually you should read the whole of Matthew 25:31-46, but what I want to share today is clear in the five verses I copied above.

If Jesus walked through your town, what would you do?  Pull out all the stops and treat him like a king right?  If he needed anything, you wouldn’t ignore him.  We would all want to let him know how cool we think he is, and how much we appreciate him, and if there was time, we might even share a favor we want to ask of him.  Considering who Jesus is, and the power he has, we would all want to get close to him to see what he’s going to do next.  He’s got so much to offer; it would be kind of nice to have him pop out a personal miracle for us, wouldn’t it?  Is it starting to sound like relating to Jesus would be like relating to a celebrity?  You know, someone that you think you know because you’ve read the tabloids, and if you ever saw them on the sidewalk you’d try to act as cool as possible to try to grab an autograph?

Then along comes Jesus’ words to us in Matthew 25, and we have a sudden reminder that Jesus seems to identify more with the losers than with the celebs. 

Why does Jesus identify with “the least of these”?  Who are “the least of these”?  I could be wrong, but I think “the least of these” must include the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.  I would say the immigrant fits right in on this list.  What I find in common on this list is that these are all people that will get in our way of our busy, important lives.  They will slow us down, and cost us something they probably won’t be able to repay.  It’s easy to begrudge that, and avoid people like this, because it’s a lot nicer to have a well-ordered life, the life that we feel we have earned… that we deserve.

If Jesus walked through my town, I admit that I would first be thinking along the lines, “what could he do for me?”  Nevermind that my needs are nothing in comparison with the needs around me, I would think first about my own situation, and what I would love to gain from an encounter with that guy that can do it all.  I am assured that Jesus loves me, so naturally I would expect that he wants to do something nice for me.  The last thing I would expect is for him to come to me and say, “I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m cold, I’m sick, and I’m in trouble with the law, help me!  Can you see yourself being rocked back on your heels if this happened to you?  It would be a shocker if Jesus came and personally identified with desperate human needs like this, wouldn’t it? 

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

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