I was recently asked by a friend to share a reflection on “the least of these” from Matthew 25:31-46. It was for an upcoming retreat. That passage has been foundational throughout my ministry: from my beginning as a prison chaplain to parishes wherein I founded charities which worked with substance misuse, homeless/hunger and community mediation–and all-too-often with resistance from ‘good church folk!’
It’s interesting to note that the early Christians in Jerusalem were referred to as ‘Ebionites’, coming from the Hebrew אביון (,ebyon, meaning ‘poor’, ‘needy’ or ‘least’). Isn’t it fascinating that Jesus identifies the least as his brethren—those close to his heart? Sadly, the identification of Christianity with the ‘least’ is now only true in places like Africa, the Middle East or Asia. In the West, and particularly in America, the ‘gospel of prosperity’ has become the dominant force within the church. Too many Christians (read ‘evangelicals’) would not want to be associated with the ‘least’ of society–and certainly not with ‘losers’, as a certain ex-president so often called them. We don’t mind giving money for faraway missions or even missions closer to home, as long as it is we who are giving the helping hand. One hand gives, while, all-too-often, the other hand keeps the least (homeless, addicted, jobless, prisoners, hungry) at a safe distance; because, at some deep level, we feel their condition is their fault–and it might be contagious! But happily, Jesus stills comes to change all of that!
It is only as we discover our poverty of spirit that God can fill our empty spaces and bring light to our dark places. Ultimately, we are all the poor in spirit and in need of God’s grace. The good news is that we are all called to receive the nourishment that God offers us when we choose to follow Jesus’s example and share God’s grace with others–particularly the ‘least.’