Homelessness and Christian service part 2:sheeps and goats,
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 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, 36 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.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “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.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Proverbs 14:3 “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.”
Maybe its not so much about who is a sheep and a goat, but how we honor God inside of others.
Dana would leave Atlanta soon for Austin. I wanted to talk with my friend and share some grub. We pulled into downtown around Ga. State University. Indian food sounded so good. I wasn’t sure if I wanted Chai more or curry. As I opened the door, it started to rain. I stood at the meter trying to feed crumbled dollar bills as Dana talked about her excitement to travel to Texas. It would be a good job for her, and she would be able to save money.
I saw several persons experiencing homelessness out of the corner of my eye, fast approaching us, as I shoved the green backs into the meter. Honestly, I really did not want to deal with anyone else but Dana. I was not in the frame of mind to listen to another sob story or to be pan handled. I worked at one of the largest homeless service centers in Atlanta. I was tired after a long day of working with volunteers and assisting clients. I wanted to turn my “taxi” sign off. I rushed Dana to the door, almost man handling her to cross Broad Street before we made contact with anyone. I felt jaded that night. It hadn’t been long since I had watched someone ransack our clothing closet and steal many new pairs of donated tennis shoes. I felt a slight twinge of inner fascist-republican-tax payer rise up.
The rain seemed to fall only on me; leaving Dana’s afro nearly dry while we scurried to the restaurant. I had almost managed to avoid the panhandler’s eyes as we arrived at the door. I opened the door and the bell sounded, and then I heard “I am hungry, can you help?” I had tried to run as fast as possible. My bank account was under 100 bucks as it was, and I wanted to buy Dana’s dinner but not anyone else’s. I felt a lot of frustration, and a sense that if I did not purchase food some hateful remark would come my way. I felt that I just wanted to be safe, and not in a place to “minister” to anyone. I was really aggravated and honestly not focused on anyone but my own hungry belly. “Sure.” I said in a tone that basically said “you are really inconveniencing me, I don’t want you around.”
She stepped out from the shadows, and said “I am Sarah, Could you also buy something for my husband.” I still had not experienced a change of heart. Mostly, I just wanted Sarah to go away. I thought about telling her to wait outside and I would bring her food. Yet, the rain seemed to pound away harder. I looked at her face to see the beads of weather starting to run down her brown skin. Her eyes seemed kind, and a few gray hairs tried to escape her beanie cap. I looked back at Dana, as if to get approval, but Dana knew what I was going to do. I said “Sarah, go fetch your husband and come sit with us inside.”
The owners looked at me with some fear, when the two soaking nomads came in with us. The young Indian students who ran the establishment obviously had their fair share of panhandlers and persons experiencing homelessness dawn their doors. One never knows what will happen when working with persons experiencing homelessness. It could be a great conversation, or a belligerent angry rant, or something about racism, or some strange god moment or psychosis mystical conversion. I had changed my focus in a matter of minutes from agitated to curious. I told Sarah to order whatever she liked, and Dana to do the same. Then Sarah brought me close to a dreadlocked man whose eyes darted around the room faster than a bird from a cage. She said “this is my husband Abraham.” “Sarah and Abraham” I said whimsically, smiling back at Dana.
We sat down with our curry and rice, and Dana and I gobbled up our food as our new found companions eagerly discussed everything from weather to current politics. I asked a question of Abraham, and Dana asked one of Sarah. Abraham started talking about “agents of freedom.” He spoke fast like one experiencing a manic high, but his tone and meter kept me attentive. I zoned out for a second to listen to Sarah’s conversation with Dana. It seemed Sarah was prophesying over Dana. I then clearly focused on Abraham and asked him another question about God.
I had finished my meal in less than five minutes, and Dana, had ate her food as eagerly as me. Yet I found my palms inside of Abraham’s as he began to pray for me. He started talking about the life I would lead and the things I would do. I tried to keep the tears at bay, but it was no use, I was tired, and my emotions were cycling. He prayed loudly and vehemently, yet the restaurant workers seemed oblivious to our obvious Pentecostal moment. The lightening flashed outside on Broad Street and I heard Sarah praying over Dana. Abraham said things that others could not know. He talked about my love for God and my rejection from the “temple system.” Dana and I never talked about her venture to Texas, but instead we were visited by two agents from God.
Matthew 25 is a verse that many Christians quote. They enjoy the little trinket about the sheep and the goats. Many have focused theologically on the verse for pointing to who is in and who is out when it comes to eternity, but it seems a deeper revelation should be about the way we treat others. In Christ’s time, there were many world systems of oppression. These systems formed schisms, creating division, and derision. Sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, jingoism, and so many more. He said whenever you have done anything unto the least of these- you have done unto me. I think his statement is very heretical, in some senses. In fundamentalism, many persons focus on Loving God, and not loving their neighbor. Yet this seems to say Love God inside of your neighbor. Jesus says when ever you have done for another you have done for him. This should be a profound revelation for anyone. Serve Christ everywhere. We are often so fixating on judging others that we cannot see the divine inside of them. Whenever you helped the transgendered woman repair her broken heel in Midtown, you helped Jesus. Whenever you helped the Mexican mother with four children to her suburban from the grocery store, you helped Jesus. Whenever you helped the 84 year old Jewish lady at the doctor’s office pick up the prescription she dropped, you helped Jesus. What if we saw everyone as Christ? Most likely we wouldn’t try to tell Jesus what was wrong with his life, but we would try to learn from him, maybe sit at his feet, brush his hair, or hug him.
And what about the definition of the least of these? It seems the “least of these” means anyone oppressed. Scripture screams that God sides with “the least,” whether a slave abandoned and jilted by a jealous wife (Genesis 21:9-19), eunuchs and immigrants (Isaiah 56:3-8), runaway slaves (Exodus 14), or widows and orphans (James 1:27). Now, the Bible is chock full of instructions to God-lovers on how to serve and to treat the poor. Loving your neighbor and assisting them in the here and now seems to be what Jesus cared about most. (Luke 4, Isaiah 61)
Matthew 25 isn’t about making us feel good for being sheep, and helping others, it’s about us realizing there aren’t others- there is just Jesus.
That night in Downtown, Sarah and Abraham were Jesus to me and Dana.
What do you think?